BEFORE you muddy the waters, pollute the language.
If talking about reality becomes tricky, find new adjectives and nouns. Should you need to sedate the public, a dose of euphemisms will do the trick. Do not, at any price, say what you really mean. George Orwell explained all of this. He imagined he was issuing a warning against self-serving jargon. He thought he was condemning imprecision as deceit by other means. You can bet he didn't guess that politicians would adopt his 1946 essay, Politics And The English Language, as a handy cut-out-and-keep guide.
Famously, Orwell wrote that political speech was "largely the defence of the indefensible". He hadn't met Iain Duncan Smith and Grant Shapps, the Chuckle Brothers of the Coalition. That pair have been having linguistic seizures because a foreigner has come up with an accurate description of their attack on housing benefit recipients.
"An absolute disgrace," said Shapps. "Outrageous," said Duncan Smith. Predictably, neither was speaking about a policy that will increase the housing benefit bill if it "succeeds" and cause evictions, misery and homelessness if - the betting window has closed - it fails in its declared purpose.
Instead, the pair were incensed because the UN's special rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnik, took evidence on the benefit changes and said that in the UK there is now a "danger of a retrogression in the right to adequate housing". Worse, the Brazilian advocated the suspension of what she called the bedroom tax. Those last two words sent Schapps into a Tory tantrum.
On behalf of his party, he dashed off a pompous letter to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon. In part, this missive - on behalf of the Conservative Party, not the Government, interestingly enough - said: "By referring to the policy as the 'bedroom tax' and posing for photos receiving 'dossiers' from those opposed to ending the spare room subsidy, I believe that Ms Rolnik has shown political bias."
So: talk to our opponents and you exhibit bias. So: fail to use our preferred language and you exhibit bias. Come up with findings that could get us a bad name internationally and you are clearly - as the Tory MP Stewart Jackson was delighted to tell the Daily Mail - a "loopy Brazilian leftie". But hold on.
Shapps insists on the term "removing the spare room subsidy". Leave the last of these words aside for now. When was this abolition measure discussed by Parliament in its debates on the Welfare Reform Act 2012?
Shapps, IDS and the rest of them hate the term bedroom tax, no doubt because it might stir memories of the poll tax. David Cameron has told the Commons that because "earned income" is not involved the word taxation cannot apply. We can look forward, then, to the Prime Minister explaining George Osborne's "help to buy" mortgage scheme as a blatant Tory vote subsidy. We can also be more precise than Shapps in his letter to Ban Ki Moon.
On February 27, Eilidh Whiteford of the SNP moved the Commons debate on the IDS housing benefit measures. The event is described in Hansard as follows: "Opposition debate on Housing Benefit (Under-Occupancy Penalty)". Shapps and his chums don't like the word "tax"? How does the word "penalty" suit? And by what twisted logic, does it relate to the word "subsidy"?
Within the Tory universe, no-one is entitled to anything they didn't inherit. The attack on Rolnik came because she held to the quaint UN notion - Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 25 - that everyone has the right to adequate housing. Shapps and his kind regard all social security as a subsidy, a hand-out, money from the pockets of hard-working Tory Party chairmen and their friends.
In fact, which is to say in reality, there is not and has never been such a thing as a "spare-room subsidy". It cannot be removed as it has never existed as a category of housing benefit. To justify penalising 660,000 households in the social rented sector by an average of £12 a week, ministers made it up. Yet the fiction is all over Department for Work & Pensions literature. Poor Shapps has just misled the secretary general of the UN.
At the last count there were 5,072,264 people on housing benefit in the UK. The new rules imposed by IDS mean that those living in council or housing association properties are allowed one bedroom per person or couple. Children under 10 are supposed to share; children of the same sex under 16 are supposed to share. Any carer who might have to stay overnight can have a bedroom, if they must.
If they fail to meet the size restrictions, households will be docked 14% of their benefit for one "extra" bedroom and 25% if they luxuriate in a property with two or more "spare" rooms. Anyone in such a situation who wants to avoid losing money will have to move to a smaller property, if needs be in a different town. Yet in Scotland, according to a statistic employed repeatedly by Labour and not yet refuted, 78,000 tenants could be chasing only 20,000 one-bedroom properties.
That isn't the end of the genius of IDS. If the social-rented sector cannot cope, that leaves private rentals (or homelessness). Yet in the year to July, average rents in Britain rose by 5.1%. London excluded, the average cost of renting is now £681 per month. If the minister succeeds in pushing former social tenants into private flats, therefore, the benefit bill is going up sharply. The figure generally mentioned is £1.5 billion.
Outlining his draft budget last week, the SNP's John Swinney promised £20 million to help those caught in the IDS trap. Labour's Scottish wing promptly demanded £50m, but left a question requiring, on the face of it, a simple answer: Would a future Ed Miliband government scrap the bedroom tax?
At the start of the month the Sunday People claimed victory in a campaign to secure such a result. An unnamed Labour source reportedly told the tabloid that Miliband was ready to make the commitment. This was despite the fact that Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, had already ruled out "making promises we can't keep".
Meanwhile, in Scotland, to astonishment, STV was told by Anas Sarwar, Labour's deputy leader, that: "If we were in power tomorrow, we would abolish the bedroom tax." Questioned by the BBC, however, Johann Lamont refused to give such a commitment. Iain Gray, shadow finance secretary, then told Newsnight Scotland that personally he wanted to get rid of the impost, but more he could not say.
So has a special moment been reserved for Miliband at Labour's Brighton conference at the end of the month? Is Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, still hedging over the alleged £495m cost - if you ignore rising private rents - of abolition? Or are sceptics right in fearing that Labour is saving this treasure up for the 2015 election?
A straight answer of some description would be nice. As Orwell suggested, the point is to say what you mean and mean what you say.
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