How Not to Write a Letter

A Postscript to my previous post:

The name that I failed to catch when watching Question Time last Thursday was Brian  McArdle. He died the day after getting a letter telling him he’d lost his benefits and been declared fit for work by Atos.

His son, Kieran, had written to Iain Duncan Smith to complain that his Brian had been “hounded to death” by Atos and the DWP. Whether you think that’s a fair assessment or not, it came from a grieving son, and deserved a compassionate reply.

Letters of condolence can be particularly difficult for politicians, as they are often widely scrutinised, as Gordon Brown found out  after he wrote to the mother of a soldier, Guardsman Jamie Janes, who had been killed in Afghanistan. The then Prime Minister had spelled the soldier’s name incorrectly, in a handwritten letter. It is easy to see how such a mistake could be made, and he had, at least, taken the trouble to write the letter himself. When the row erupted, Brown admitted that his handwriting wasn’t great, another complaint about his letter being that it had been “hastily scrawled”, and apologised to Jacqui Janes for that, and for the spelling mistake, by telephone.

So we come to IDS’s reply to Kieran McArdle. It doesn’t start too badly, with condolences offered, but quickly turns to government spin which, in my view, is entirely inappropriate and unsympathetic.

“I was very sorry to read of your father’s death. I offer my sincere condolences to you and your family at this time.

“I know nothing I can say will do anything to ease the pain of losing your father, but I’d like to explain why the Government’s reforms to the sickness benefits system are so important and how much work we’re doing to make the process as fair as possible.

“I know this will be a difficult time for you and I’m grateful this was brought to my attention.”

In fact, I cannot detect any genuine sympathy in those words, and I get the impression IDS only sent it because he’d been embarrassed into doing so by a Daily Record campaign.

Here’s the end of the letter, courtesy of the Daily Record:

As you can see, it isn’t handwritten, and I’m not even sure that Smith signed it himself, the signature is so illegible. If he did, the carelessness of that signature is surely indicative of his disdain for the person receiving the letter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s