John Harris

Journalist & Author

George Osborne’s first-class train gaffe: Plebgate act II | John Harris

Have senior Tories and their aides learned nothing from the past few weeks? Do they think first-class fares don’t apply to them?

This is now getting silly. With Andrew Mitchell still in post and the phrase “fucking plebs” continuing to echo uncomfortably around Westminster, now we get an incident that suggests the same variety of behaviour. It’s like Plebgate Act II: another episode suggesting an almost surreal reluctance to respect the same rules as the rest of us.

It’s all laid out in the Twitter timeline of Granada TV correspondent Rachel Townsend, who today claimed to have watched George Osborne get on a London-bound train at Wilmslow (my hometown, and a key part of his constituency). “George Osborne just got on at Wilmslow with a STANDARD ticket and he has sat in FIRST,” wrote Townsend at around 3.45pm. Then this: “His aide tells ticket collector he cannot possibly move and sit with the likes of us in standard class and requests he is allowed to remain in first class.

Ticket collector refuses.” Respect! And while we’re here, what of Osborne’s recent revival of “We’re all in this together”?

There’s still some confusion over exactly who needed the upgrade: later word from Townsend suggested that it was the aide who had a standard-class ticket, and was insisting on staying in first class, because the chancellor “couldn’t possibly sit in standard class” (for fear, presumably, of the Olympics treatment). There was thus a “standoff”, an assurance from the ticket collector that there was “no chance” of the aide getting his way, and a subsequent refusal to pay a £160 upgrade – for which ordinary folks might be thrown off at Crewe, or something. As far as I can tell, around 15 minutes then passed, before the money was reluctantly handed over, while Townsend managed another couple of amazed tweets: the whole story is now on the ITV news website. The BBC has reported that Virgin Trains says it was Osborne himself who was “caught travelling” with the wrong type of ticket.

Whatever the precise details – and they’re likely to be fought over, as in Plebgate – all this prompts a few questions: was it so wise to have had this out in apparently loud voices? Have senior Tories and their helpers learned nothing from the last few weeks? Or are they so convinced of their own superiority that they think any such lessons, much like first-class fares, somehow don’t apply to them? Answers below, please.

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