Simon Cowell on American Idol. IDS said the programme perpetuated "pernicious" ideas.

Handbags at dawn: Iain Duncan Smith vs Simon Cowell

Handbags at dawn: Iain Duncan Smith vs Simon Cowell

By Ian Dunt

One of the strangest political spats of recent years continued today, as Iain Duncan Smith and Simon Cowell adopted a somewhat passive-aggressive approach to their differences.

The bickering between the pair began when the welfare secretary wrote a newspaper article saying The X Factor had created a "twisted culture" in which people over-valued celebrity.

He argued the show fed "the pernicious idea that success is not related to effort and work".

Cowell shot back by saying the minister was talking "complete rubbish" and saying his programme gave "people who need a break a break".

The hostilities have now descended into ominous mutual invitations. Cowell started the initiative by offering Mr Duncan Smith front-row seats to the programme with his family.

According to the Sun, Mr Duncan Smith has now responded with a letter in which he accepted the tickets and urged the music mogul to sign up to his controversial work placement programme.

The offer is unlikely to be well received by Cowell, given that many major corporations have now quit the scheme amid frenzied criticism from campaigners, who brand it "slave labour".

Mr Duncan Smith wrote: "I would like to invite you to offer a few young people a chance to do work experience in Syco Entertainment, on our programme.

"We would continue to pay them their unemployment benefits and they would be able to stay with the company for up to two months.

"The scheme is entirely voluntary and I am sure there are many young people who would relish the opportunity."

He added: "We would agree what most young people need is a chance – and for the majority, that will not mean a career in front of the microphone.

"There are many jobs that are not about performing. If you can pledge these opportunities it would be welcomed."

The scheme is supported by many ministers as a way of ensuring unemployed people keep the work ethic and learn new skills while receiving benefits, but opponents say that it allows major corporations like Tesco to use free labour for non-skilled roles such as shelf-stacking.