Mary Wakefield Mary Wakefield

The awkward squad

Mary Wakefield goes with Iain Duncan Smith to meet the social entrepreneurs who have devoted their lives to the most vulnerable sections of society

An excited twitter filled the assembly room of the Eastside Young Leaders Academy (EYCA) in Plaistow, east London. ‘David Cameron’s arrived! He’s in the corridor! He’s nearly here!’ Day three of his leadership, and just the thought of Dave’s presence has the same effect on Tories as Will Young has on teenage girls. Middle-aged charity workers patted their hair, Dave’s female handlers began to herd hacks into ever smaller spaces; across the room our host, Iain Duncan Smith, sat up straighter. A silence, then David Cameron bounced in, his left hand clenched in its trademark fist, his face the usual pink. Bulbs flashed, women clapped, pens scratched. ‘I’m here,’ said Cameron, ‘to announce the creation of a new Social Justice Policy Group, to investigate social breakdown. And I’m delighted,’ he swung an arm out left to indicate Iain, ‘that my old friend and colleague Iain Duncan Smith has agreed to chair the group.’

Everybody cheered. Iain beamed, his transformation complete. Four years ago, as leader, he was uninspiring, a touch defensive. Now, bathed in reflected light from the EYLA’s daffodil-coloured walls, IDS looked relaxed and purposeful. It’s not that the job is anything new — Iain’s own think-tank, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), was set up to help and learn from the same failing parts of society — but it means approval, an official mandate to continue, and the assurance that the leader will listen to his suggestions.

Iain’s new mission became clear to him in 2002 on a visit to the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow. Easterhouse is one of the grisliest, most drug-addled places in Britain, but the horror, for Iain, was redeemed by the resolve of local volunteers. ‘In contrast to some of the public sector schemes that come and go, the leaders of these projects knew the people they helped,’ he said.

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