This week was the stuff of nightmares

The week in review: Fascists, child killers and the Daily Mail

The week in review: Fascists, child killers and the Daily Mail

This was the week the austerity debate went from theory to practise. The quality of the debate surrounding these fundamental changes to British society consisted of dead children, parking spaces and the precise question of whether a man can live on £53 a week.

April 1st saw a barrage of tax changes take effect, with more welfare cuts following as the week went on. The disability living allowance is being scrapped, the 50p tax rate is being cut and the NHS reforms are being implemented. All the big austerity controversies, like the bedroom tax, are finally being enacted. This is the moment the legislation stops and the enforcement takes over.

Leftie newspapers like the Mirror and the Guardian discussing the changes as if a swarm of locusts had descended on Britain. But that was just a precursor to some deeply questionable press tactics on either side of the political divide.

The working week began with Iain Duncan Smith facing demands for him to live on £53 a week. He'd had the misfortune to go on air on Radio 4 after a man who claimed that's all he had left after the housing benefit cut. That may or may not have been true, but it got lost in the din. IDS insisted he'd make do if he had to and sparked off a distracting row about precisely how privileged he was. A petition on went viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of signatures. IDS duly went to his local paper and told a broadly unconvincing story about his poverty-stricken youth.

All very distracting and childlike. But it paled to nothing the next day when the Mail went to press with a quite insane front page suggesting Mick Philpott, who was sentenced this week for killing his six children, was a product of 'welfare UK'. The Sun got stuck in in a similar manner, saying the state was "subsidising" the manslaughter of children, a claim so outrageous they had the good sense to alter it in later editions. Then George Osborne weighed in. It was a very strange decision. The chancellor was already benefitting from the tabloid decision to link welfare reform and a multiple killing. He would have done well to stand above it all, statesmanlike, and let them do the  dirty work. Instead, he responded to a question on the link by saying Philpott was personally responsible but that the taxpayer had the right to ask questions about welfare for such large families. The quote itself was not troublesome, but the context gave ministerial legitimacy to some pretty grubby tabloid antics. The prime minister, in his wisdom, joined in.

The left was starting to feel like the right had lost the plot entirely, so it made sure it could claim some degree of equanimity by obsessing over Osborne's car parking. He wasn't driving but he was in a car which momentarily parked in a disabled space. It was undeniable proof of his utter sadism, as any reasonable observer will surely concur.

The relentless focus on welfare shows how virulently the Tories now pursue right-wing issues under Lynton Crosby's strategic leadership. Cameron humiliated Nick Clegg by presupposing the Trident review with a commitment to get a like-for-like replacement for the nuclear deterrent.

For about 30 seconds the Tories even toyed with cutting minimum wage – a policy which would be considered disastrous by many economists and lose them crucial support among lower-income workers, most of whom are broadly sympathetic to the welfare changes. First they did a soft leak to the press, then the prime minister's spokesman confirmed it, then the internet lost its mind with rage, then they U-turned. After considerable practise, the coalition now excels at U-turns. They are capable of announcing something at breakfast, reversing it at lunch and denying its existence by dinner.

The Tories could go much further to the right and still be considered liberal next to Sunderland's new manager, Paulo Di Canio, whose appointment triggered the resignation of David Miliband. Act of moral principle? Possibly. But then he is off to New York, so his discovery of ethical conduct came at an opportune time. Di Canio has previously given Lazio fans a Hitler salute, sports a tattoo celebrating Mussolini and once said: "I am a fascist not a racist." That last quote was apparently taken out of context, although one imagines what possible context could have been involved.

His first press conference was a disaster. He refused to answer the questions about fascism and his PR could be heard off-camera demanding journalists shut up. He even seemed to suggest he would not invite any journalist who asked about it to future press conferences like, well, like a fascist dictator. Far more seriously, he repeatedly referred to himself in the third person. "I can't keep going talking about life and my family," he said. "They offend Paulo de Canio." He sounded like the Incredible Hulk, if the Incredible hulk was a slim Italian with a buzz-cut and questionable views on immigration.

It comes to something when a fascist is the week's light relief.