Iain Duncan Smith’s recent comments – that the people of Methyr Tydfil had become “static”, and that they needed to “get on the bus” and look for work an hour away in Cardiff – were not merely insensitive. They were also characteristically idiotic.
As recent job stats show the unemployment rate in Cardiff is nearly nine per cent. This is well above the already high national average, and above average too for Wales. The streets are not paved with gold, and with so many Cardiff residents unable to find work a long bus trip from out of town on the off chance of finding a job is extremely unlikely to prove fruitful.
And what if a resident of Methyr Tydfil did somehow get a job in Cardiff. Surely this would simply mean one more of the many thousands of unemployed Cardiff residents would have to stay on the unemployment register. Presumably, they can then go and find a job in Methyr Tydfil, or something. Perhaps an expert on Friedmanite economics could explain how this makes things better.
The idea that unemployment can be conquered by increasing the “mobility of labour” is loved by the right. And it is needs to be challenged on two grounds. At a most basic level, there is insufficient demand for labour not simply within particular localities but within the whole national economy. There are far more jobseekers than jobs and simply moving people around cannot change this.
But in a more general sense we need to challenge the idea that labour should and must be mobile. We need to challenge the idea that the geographical distribution of capital is simply an act of god, that government cannot alter it, and that it is simply up to workers, to pick up their things, cut their links, disrupt their lives and move to wherever business moves.
As an aside, I once actually met Iain Duncan Smith after he came to speak at the Cambridge Union. He came up to me like I was really pleased to see him. I told him he was pathetic, and he walked away looking disappointed. Today, my words hardly seems strong enough.