“Osborne couldn’t possibly sit in standard class”
Last week Friday evening saw a flurry of activity in the media as embattled Chief Government Whip Andrew Mitchell resigned. It had come after a full four weeks after it was alleged that he verbally abused a Police officer outside of 10 Downing Street – the allegation came from the Police officer abused who stated that the words “fxxxxxg” and “pleb” figured prominently in the Ministers tirade. Nevertheless David Cameron stood behind his Chief Whip, publicly backing him and repeatedly stating that the issue was over as the Police had accepted Mitchell’s apology.
Yet rather suddenly Mitchell resigned late Friday, shortly after the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was found to be in the wrong train carriage. Was his resignation hurriedly arranged to deflect attention away from the potentially more damaging antics of the Chancellor?
It started when a sharp eyed reporter for ITV Granada (Rachel Townsend – RachTownsendITV) noticed an issue with Osborne and his aide and the train ticket inspector on a train from Wilmslow. The following messages were recorded by Townsend:
“George Osborne got on the train with aides at Wilmslow and went straight to first class. Then his aide approached the ticket collector right next to me. He said he is travelling with George and he has a standard ticket but can he remain in first class?
“The guard said no. The aide said Osborne couldn’t possibly sit in standard class. The guard replied saying if he wants to stay it’s £160.
“The aide said he couldn’t pay and he couldn’t really sit in standard. The guard refused to budge.
“The guard went on gathering tickets and later told me Osborne had agreed to cough up the £160.”
The toxic element of the above report are, of course, the words:
“Osborne couldn’t possibly sit in standard class” and “the aide said he couldn’t pay and he couldn’t really sit in standard”
Was “standard” below Osborne, and worse still was he trying via his aide to avoid paying for first class and using his high Government position to stay there?
Following these explosive tweets the press gathered at Euston Station and smelt blood. Headlines like “The great train snobbery” and “Fare dodging Chancellor” were being readied. Until the resignation of Mitchell, of course. Virgin Trains, who are in the midst of re-applying to the Government to keep their multi billion pound contract for the west coast line issued a supportive statement:
“The Chancellor, who was travelling in first class accommodation, held a standard class ticket.
As soon as the train left Wilmslow, an aide went to find the train manager to explain the situation and arrange to pay for an upgrade.
It was agreed that the Chancellor would remain in first class and an amount of £189.50 was paid by the aide to cover the upgrade for Mr Osborne and his PA.
The situation was dealt with amicably between the Train Manager and George Osborne’s aide. At no time was there a disagreement or a refusal to pay for the upgrade. Nor was there any discussion between the Train Manager and Mr Osborne.”
– VIRGIN TRAINS STATEMENT
The Treasury was also keen to downplay the incident:
“The chancellor got a different train than planned due to a diary change following a series of meetings in his constituency,” a spokesman said. “As he had no seat reservation on the new train, which was crowded, he decided to upgrade – and obviously intended and was happy to pay. An aide sought out the train manager and paid the ticket upgrade.”
Rather a different story coming through from the Virgin and Treasury statements, but like Mitchell it seems to be the word of a journalist (or the Police) against the word of a Cabinet Minister. It is certainly debatable as to what is worse – swearing and condescending words (pleb) against the Police or looking down on the “standard” seats and fare dodging by a Chancellor, who by the way oversees something like £650 billion of government expenditure per year. Osborne’s fellow Oxford Bullingdon Club member London Mayor Boris Johnson last year called fare dodgers a “parasitic scourge”. Perhaps we should give the Chancellor the benefit of the doubt and the ITV Grenada journalist got it wrong, although Osborne does seem to have form, if another Twitter user can be believed.
Twitter user @LarryLarryLal retweeted a post he had written in May of this year that claimed he was on the same train as Osborne when the Chancellor tried to avoid paying the correct first class fare.
“Ticket inspector on my train just got a high five: george osborne tried to sit in 1st class with a std tkt. Inspector said NO”
To lose a Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second most senior position in the Government, would be a disaster for David Cameron, so it is no surprise that the Mitchell resignation came at an opportune time, and has taken most of the headlines.
The wider issue of course is the enveloping scandals that all too frequently attract those in the corridors of power in this country. When the country is facing an economic crisis and austerity is the buzz word of the Chancellor, the above behaviour is bizarre and indicative of a ruling elite that is out of touch with reality, seems to be above the law, and has no right to say “we are all in this together”.
Jamal Harwood is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is a lecturer in Finance, and a member of the UK Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain.