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IDS Says Some People Think They're Above Stacking Shelves - Not Him, of Course

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By Barney Guiton

Various media outlets were running with variations on Iain Duncan Smith saying that stacking shelves in a supermarket was more important than geology on 17 February. In context, the implication was a bit of a stretch from what he actually said, but hey, hell of a headline. A lot of those web articles seem to have been mysteriously altered by now, to reflect what he actually said instead: that some people think that they are too good to stack shelves.

I think we can assume that when he said "these people" he was thinking of Cait Reilly, the 24-year-old geology graduate who won her Appeal Court case over the work scheme she was on, which led to her working unpaid in Poundland, after judges ruled that it breached laws on forced labour. Reilly objected to not being paid for the 'work experience' placement, only facing the removal of her jobseeker's allowance if she didn't do it.

"Of course, she must think she's above it, the hoity-toity degree-gathering state-leech", apparently decided Duncan-Smith, who described the Appeal Court's decision as "rubbish". Some of the nation's greats like, er, Sir Terry Leahy started off stacking shelves, he declared. Presumably though, they actually got paid for it back then.

Ironically enough, Reilly now has a part-time job... in a supermarket, getting paid actual money by the hour, so Duncan Smith was in fact accusing a shelf-stacker of thinking herself above shelf-stacking. Perhaps he thought she was up a ladder (or at least trying to climb one). She denied thinking herself above Poundland, saying, not unreasonably, "It is just that I expect to get paid for working."

Duncan Smith, on the other hand, back when he was a young man, saw nothing wrong with claiming jobseekers allowance for several months, before he found work in everyone's favourite ethically unsound sector, the arms industry. We can only assume that all the shelf-stacking positions were taken by more qualified candidates.

I might actually, for a second, consider what Duncan Smith was saying if he had had any kind of job like that before, but who is Iain Duncan Smith, with his smarmy, privileged tones - a professional politician since 1992, practically oozing entitlement - to accuse someone of thinking they're above shelf-stacking?

At least, I suppose, he had some kind of job though, in the army and then various gun-related ventures. Sure, they revolve largely around shooting and killing people, but an actual job in the real world at least, outside of politics and the media. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of, for example, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls or George Osborne (except a brief spell entering the names of people that had died the previous day into NHS databases - grim - and a week folding towels in Selfridges, apparently). Nick Clegg was once a ski instructor. Let's hope, for the sake of his students, that he was better at it than his current profession.

The truth is that a hugely disproportionate number of politicians, particularly those at the top of the tree, haven't really worked a proper job, and certainly not stacking shelves. It's a fact that makes me actually miss former cruise ship steward John Prescott, which can never be good. Is it any wonder they don't see what's wrong with unpaid work schemes and high unemployment? They just don't see what real life is like. They need a reality check, and here's my suggestion.

Potential MPs should only be able to stand as a candidate if they'd done a year long work placement (paid at the going rate, let's not stoop to their level). I don't care where - could be in a solicitors, could be in a cafe, but they should know that where they choose could affect the voters' choice. Maybe the constituents could be involved in drawing up a list of jobs they could do. Who wouldn't want to see Boris Johnson doing the rounds as a bin man before he inevitably secures his safe seat in the Commons?

Let's make politicians show some commitment to public service by making them actually serve the public for a while, say in a greasy spoon or on a supermarket checkout. Making them get down from their Westminster cloud and do some honest work might make them think twice before imposing unpaid work schemes and the like on the rest of us. And if not, at least it'd be a good laugh.

@BarneyGuiton