The availability on-line of all MPs’ expense claims has tempted the Telegraph to splash on a supposed “investigation” revealing that over a hundred of them claimed for First Class travel. But this, as I noted when considering the case of the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, is permitted under IPSA rules as long as the cost is less than the standard class “Anytime” equivalent.
So the Tel is giving us no new news. The rules were set, and MPs are abiding by them. They are doing no more than their constituents – shopping around for book-ahead deals that give them a First Class seat at a lower price. I’ve done the same over a number of years for journeys from the north west to London and to the south west. The difference is that my authority for doing this is me (I approved the claims).
And that is the entire rationale behind the Tel piece. No rules are being broken, money is actually being saved, but, dammit, they’re sitting in the comfy seats and they could have saved even more by going standard class. Not necessarily. While checking journeys from Wilmslow to Euston (for instance) after Osborne’s adventure last week, the cheapest single fare was not always in standard class.
For some trains, the lowest price was for a book-ahead First Class fare. Partly that is down to demand at the time of the day – Osborne’s train was busier in standard than it was in First – and partly down to the amount of First Class accommodation on the Virgin Pendolino trains, which fills up on popular business trains but usually has plenty of space at other times of the day.
So the Tel is being disingenuous: that cheapest standard class fare may not be available on the train the MP has to take. Would they prefer they charge the public purse more for an Anytime ticket? And they’re being equally disingenuous on Osborne’s travel expenses: “the Chancellor is one of 460 MPs who have not sought to claim for a first-class train seat in the past year” is key.
Going once more into Jon Stewart mode, two things here. One, the expense claims made by Osborne available online only go up to the end of last year, so they don’t know. And two, those claims that are available for scrutiny do not specify what class of ticket the fare paid for. The fare ranges for standard and First advance purchase tickets overlap (as will come clear when I publish my analysis).
But the last word has to go to Matthew Sinclair, chief non-job holder at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, who not only repeats the potentially false assumption about standard class always being cheaper, but asserts “If standard-class travel isn’t good enough for MPs, it isn’t good enough for ordinary commuters who pay for their own tickets”. Yes Matthew – that’s why commuter trains also have First Class seats.
So that’s more guff being expounded on the subject. No change there, then.