The Minister of State for Pensions, Lady Ros Altmann – Iain Duncan-Smith’s ‘right hand’ at the Department of Work & Pensions – today unveiled an example of what the money ‘saved’ from reduced benefits payments (which is to say, more borrowed money, because benefits cuts have saved no net amount of money at all) is being spent on – the computer-generated manufacture of what appears to be the love-child of Stripe from Gremlins and Sweetums from The Muppet Show. It cost £8.5 million to develop.
‘Workie’, as the ‘Gruppet’ (to coin a phrase) is called, made his television debut on ITV this evening during a commercial break. He is supposedly there to promote the rights of workers to workplace pensions. Altmann describes Workie, with his tiny horns, his eye-twisting multi-coloured fur, and his smile-addicted mouth too high up his face, as the “striking physical embodiment of the workplace pension”. The advertising campaign is aimed at small employers and employees.
No, I promise, I really am not making this up. Possibly Iain Duncan-Smith is interpreting the term ‘small employers’ in a physical/age-group sense, which would not rank very highly on his list of foolish mistakes, but the position that the DWP is taking is that there is a ‘serious message’ behind this. Why they were unable just to write that message, the Department has so far failed to explain, but that is only one of a succession of questions that need answering. Others include:
- Why would the DWP want pensions to be embodied by giant beasts with horns growing out of their heads?
- What does Workie’s appearance say about the subconscious self-view of people working in the DWP?
- How many hard-up families might have received some much-needed relief if the money had been invested in the Welfare State instead?
- Is it not typical of the Conservative Party that, even when they are trying to create something loveable, or ‘fun’ and ‘quirky’ as Altmann put it, they still have to crowbar the word ‘work’ into its name?
There are other questions, but the fourth one above is perhaps the one that gets to the nub of the matter, with the authoritarian overtones it highlights. To phrase it more generally; how patronising are the Tories towards the people of their own country? Do they really imagine that the working-age people these adverts are aimed at are so shallow, so childish, and have so little attention-span that they would need to see a CGI-monster, which would not look entirely out-of-place in a Care Bears cartoon, to make them listen? This makes the Labour Party’s pink bus faux pas in February look thoroughly respectful.
There have been numerous controversies and embarrassing moments at the DWP during Iain Duncan-Smith’s time running it, but this one is a stand-out moment, as it manages to be both a typical DWP blunder, and a succinct sum-up of the attitude of the Tories’ highest echelon. They think they have the right to demand that everyone poorer than they are must work unreasonably hard, they will never stop reminding the poor of that demand, and they talk down to the poor like parents berating children. The Tories’ obsession with ‘authority’, their undemocratic self-description as ‘the natural party of Government’, their tendency to bully the poor while cajoling the rich, all point to a rigid, hierarchical view of society, near the apex of which they assume they must always remain. Hence, they cannot talk to the general public they can only talk down to them.
We can laugh at today’s absurd little display – as indeed many are on the Twitter hashtag #WorkieTwerks – but the ‘serious’ side of it I hope to see is that more people learn just what an insulting view this high-handed, blunder-prone Government has of them, and that they join the campaign to put an end to Tory misrule for good.