‘You know when you see someone and think, ‘”wow, they’re in their own world.” Well that world is La-La land.’ (The Urban Dictionary).

Two very influential residents of La-La land are Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith. Let’s have a look at them.

Michael Gove
Readers might recall that on January 2nd, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, used the pages of the Daily Mail to add his tuppence worth on the importance of 2014 year as the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, 1914 – 1918.images-2

His argument under the headline, ‘Why does the Left insist on belittling true British heroes?’ was as follows. The war was a tragedy for Britain because it lost so many of its ‘bravest and best’. But it was a just war because we fought to crush the expansionist intent of Germany. Further, because contemporary Britain shares so many problems with the Britain of 1914 it is particularly important that we learn lessons from the war. We can do this by recalling the experience of the war. It is particularly important to present this ‘correctly’ because not only do some left-wing historians denigrate the generals and, by implication, the ordinary soldiers of the British Army but also:

“The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.”

Now Mr Gove knows a lot about catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite – he is, after all, one of the self-serving Oxbridge Tory elite presently driving Britain into the ground.

But he’s entitled to his tub-thumping, myopic right wing views and the Daily Mail seems the right place for him to air them. Readers will remember the hatchet job that the Daily Mail did on the reputation of Ed Miliband’s father. Note, by the way, that Gove doesn’t include the ‘war poets’ in his list of villains; no mention of Robert Graves, William Owen or Siegfried Sassoon. No mention either of contemporary authors such as Pat Barker or Sebastian Faulks. And absolutely no mention of Michael Morpurgo’s astonishing and astonishingly successful War Horse.

Sir Tony Robinson aka Baldrick and historian and Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Tristram Hunt have dealt with Gove’s cod-history so we’ll leave his partisan views to them. Here, we are particularly interested in his criticism of popular theatre and TV. The thing is that you always know that a government is in trouble when it drags popular culture into its political arguments.

Enter Iain Duncan Smith

Never one to miss a bash-the-left party, Iain Duncan Smith has his own take on popular culture. But whereas Gove chooses to characterise popular culture as a left wing conspiracy, for Iain Duncan Smith it shows the world the way it is.Iain-Duncan-Smith-2
Channel Four’s series Benefits Street has created a lot of interest. The programme tells something of the lives, of some of the people, some of the time, who live on James Turner Street, in Winson Green, Birmingham. On 11th Jan, Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told the Commons that viewers were shocked by what they saw on Benefits Street.
Philip Davies Tory MP for our close neighbour, Shipley, had asked Mr Duncan Smith whether he had seen Benefits Street and without waiting for a reply added:
“If so, has he, like me, been struck by the number of people on them who manage to combine complaining about welfare reform with being able to afford to buy copious amounts of cigarettes, have lots of tattoos, and watch Sky TV on the obligatory widescreen television?
“Does he understand the concerns and irritation of many people who go to work every day and pay their taxes but cannot afford those kinds of luxuries?”

Without confirming whether or not he’d seen the programme, Mr Duncan Smith replied:
“My honourable friend is right: many people are shocked by what they see.
“That is why the public back our welfare reform package, which will get more people back to work and end these abuses. All these abuses date back to the last Government, who had massive spending and trapped people in benefit dependency.”

Incidentally, Mr Davies criticism of Benefits Street were picked up by the Wharfedale Observer.

Iain Duncan Smith also told the Commons he was thinking of reducing the £26,000 limit on benefits which any household can receive.

Benefits Street is only a TV programme and one which, in recent days has come in for some serious criticism not only by sociologists and other ‘well-meaning do-gooders’ but the people who actually live on James Turner Street.

Now Mr Duncan Smith considers himself a Christian so we wonder what he would make of a report commissioned by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church, ‘The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty’ in 2013.

The report, from which we quote extensively below, exposes five myths not about the people ‘represented’ on Benefits Street but real people such as those who live on James Turner Street.

Myth 1
‘They’ are lazy and don’t want to work
The most commonly cited cause of child poverty by churchgoers and the general public alike is that “their parents don’t want to work”. Yet the majority of children in poverty are from working households. Inwork poverty is now more common than out of work poverty. It is readily accepted that across the country there are families in which three generations have never worked. Examples of such families have not been found, and the evidence suggests it is unlikely we ever will. How did we come to believe these things?

Myth 2
‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs.
Churchgoers and the wider public cite addiction as the second most common cause of child poverty. While addiction is devastating for the families and communities touched by it, fewer than 4% of benefit claimants report any form of addiction. How did we come to believe this is such a big factor in the lives of the 13 million people who live in poverty in the UK today?

Myth 3
‘They’ are not really poor – they just don’t manage their money properly
Nearly 60% of the UK population agrees that the poor could cope if only they handled their money properly. The experience of living on a low income is one of constant struggle to manage limited resources, with small events having serious consequences. Statistics show that the poorest spend their money carefully, limiting themselves to the essentials. How did we come to believe that poverty was caused by profligacy?

Myth 4
‘They’ are on the fiddle
Over 80% of the UK population believe that “large numbers falsely claim benefits”. Benefit fraud has decreased to historically low levels – the kind of levels that the tax system can only dream of. Less than 0.9% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud. The fact is that if everyone claimed and was paid correctly, the welfare system would cost around £18 billion more. So how did we come to see welfare claimants as fraudulent scroungers?

Myth 5
‘They’ have an easy life
Over half the British public believes benefits are too high and churchgoers tend to agree. Government ministers speak of families opting for benefits as a lifestyle choice. Yet we know that benefits do not meet minimum income standards. They have halved in value relative to average incomes over the last 30 years. We know the ill and the unemployed are the people least satisfied and happy with life. Why have we come to believe that large numbers of families would choose this a lifestyle?

To repeat – the ‘we’ of the above statements is the combined voice of the Baptist Union, Methodist Church, Church of Scotland and United Reformed Church. It is THEIR expose of – and judgement on – the myths we quote here.
Mr Duncan Smith apparently prefers Benefits Street.

Conclusion
In their La-La land Mr Gove points at TV programmes that ‘distort the truth’ whilst Mr Duncan Smith selects TV programmes that ‘tell the truth’.
So who is right?
Real devotees of popular television would know how to deal with this sort of dilemma. In the award-winning, long-running and hugely popular television programme, Harry Hill’s TV Burp, Harry invites people of differing opinions to settle their contrasting views by …. Having A Fight! We would pay good money to see that.

But, seriously, surely

Britain Can Do Better Than This

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