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Saturday 20 October 2012

Tories On Rail – Do As We Say, Not As We Do

The continuing story of the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, and his apparent attempt to get away with enjoying the benefits of First Class travel on a standard class ticket, is not going to go away – not now that the details of his travel expenses have arrived on Zelo Street. And nor is the stench of rank hypocrisy following yesterday’s news.

What kind of ticket does Sir have? Oh dear, Sir, now that's going to cost you ...

First Class rail travel was for many years acknowledged as par for the course with our elected representatives. But that was before the Parliamentary expenses scandal rocked Westminster and the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) heralded a hair shirt approach by many to their constituents, some almost boasting how little they claimed from the public purse.

Indeed, when the Coalition came to power, Osborne’s then deputy David Laws – and yes, he too fell victim to dodgy expense claims not long after the event – made a speech which is still on record, on May 24 2010. This announced £6.2 billion in savings across Government. The cabinet would all take a pay cut. Departments were urged to look again at their budgets. And there had to be leadership.

In a section of that speech titled “Luxuries and Leadership”, Laws asserted “Full first class fares are very expensive and should be avoided by all public servants wherever possible ... [we] are minded to deduct the costs of any first class travel from the future spending limits of any public sector body”. From this followed the imposition of standard class walk-up fares as the maximum that could be claimed.

And woe betide Civil Servants who were subsequently caught travelling First Class: the Coalition could count on the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his obedient hackery to go after them with a vengeance. In an article from December 2010, titled “Civil servants spend £1m on first class rail travel each MONTH”, several individuals were named and shamed as the Mail talked of a “gravy train”.

There was the obligatory quote from the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), on this occasion provided by Emma Boon, whose apparent abrupt departure from the TPA at the end of June – no announcement was made – has yet to be explained by the remaining non-job holders. But the news was widely disseminated across the news media – even in the Guardian and Independent.

It’s a straightforward and explicit message: claiming full first class fare is out. That, by implication, must extend to occasions when an upgrade has to be paid that causes the cost of one or more journeys to equal that full fare – as it seems happened to Osborne yesterday. So he must pay at least some of that cost himself. In the meantime, his rail fare claims over the 2010-2012 period are being examined.

And enquiries are being made about where he sits on the train. More later.

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