Five months ago, the government was reshuffled and the department for social security was given to a very unsuitable person, Esther McVey. This glamorous blonde, a former TV newsreader, had made such a bad impression in her previous stint as a junior minister in the same department that her own voters in a Lancashire seat had voted her out by way of thanks. She was widely regarded as having all the empathy of a rock and, in spite of her pretty features, half the charm. In fact, if Teresa May weren't notoriously straight, there would be every reason to suspect that McVey had slept her way back into office. The truth, of course, had to do with that miserable death-rattle of politics, brexit; to “balance” the factions in her government, May needed a hard-line brexiteer in the vacant social security seat, and McVey had at least some experience in the place – in the sense that a Communist union agitator has an experience of private business.
Now McVey has shown her entire quality. She has twice lied in Parliament – a resigning matter; and not only lied, but put words in a top civil servant's mouth that were the very reverse of what he had said, and implicitly charged him with incompetence. The facts are these. For the last few years, the Tories, first under Cameron and now under May, have been pushing an ugly nostrum called Universal Credit for the reform of social benefits (unemployment, disability, etc.). This meant basically taking all the state benefits and bundling them together. There have long been serious doubts as to whether this monster could possibly be implemented and as to whether it would do any good if it were, and in the last few months, the head of the Government Accounting Office, Sir Amyas Morse, has been preparing a report into the matter.
Not once, but twice, Esther McVey has stated in open Parliament that Sir Amyas had stated concerns – that Universal Credit wasn't being rolled out fast enough; that he had no problems with the reform as such; and that at any rate the report was out of date. These things seemed unlikely on the face of it, and today, two days after her second such statement, Sir Amyas Morse, head of the General Accounting Office, one of the most sensitive and senior posts in the civil service, has exploded in public with an open letter that all but calls her a liar. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/04/amyas-morse-auditor-general-universal-credit-letter-esther-mcvey
This is a resigning matter. If you lie to Parliament, you resign. That is a simple and well known principle, although of late some notorious instances have got away with doing just that. But I don't think that anyone has ever been called a liar in such an enormous matter, a primary government policy, and to such a disgraceful extent – yes means no, not just once, but all across the line. This is not only a lie, but a stupid lie – I am tempted to say, in homage to the colour of Ms.McVey's hair dye, a dumb blonde kind of lie. The only way she could hope to get away with it was if Sir Amyas turned out to be such a fantastic coward that he would allow himself to be treated like that and not set the record straight. Well, apparently McVey has no idea what a backbone is, because she seems to have been very surprised to find that Sir Amyas Morse had one.
Mrs.May needs McVey to stay in her post, for the same reason why she placed her in it: it is needed to “balance” her self-splitting government. And so McVey has been dispatched to apologize to Parliament for “unwittingly misleading” them. But above and beyond the matter of political convenicence, there is something very May about this July scandal. McVey has been guilty, basically, of thinking that if you just paper over the cracks and lie over matter of fact, your policies will move ahead by some sort of inner inevitability, and people will be convinced or knuckle under. And this is, in fact, a very Teresa May sort of behaviour; it is the same way in which May continues to sail blithely on with the Irish border issue, just talking as though everyone will soon be convinced of her magnificent brilliance. It is the “What could possibly go wrong” kind of politics.