The recent incident of George Osborne being found upgrading his ticket to 1st class caused me a great deal of confusion. Literally thousands purchase first-class tickets every year. Why is this any different?
It seems to be a result of the way people treat political leaders in the UK. The US President often travels using Air Force One, an aircraft with much more luxury than any first class carriage George Osborne is likely to have travelled on.
When compared to the story that a group of MPs, such as Labour MP Chris Bryant, have been renting out taxpayer funded ‘2nd homes’ for personal profit the matter of a train ticket becomes exceedingly insignificant. Labourites saw the issue as a chance to attack Osborne for being rich, while others were needlessly outraged about expenses – indeed, 44 per cent of Labour MPs have claimed for 1st class tickets in the last year, compared to just 16 per cent of Conservatives.
Much of the criticism stems from the conversation Osborne’s aide is said to have had with the train manager on-board the Virgin train to London. The exchange, observed and tweeted by a journalist who was also on board the train, is said to have included a comment regarding George Osborne being unable to sit in standard class. Considering he is one of the most important men in Britain, surely this makes sense? Nobody would ever suggest that the Queen should travel in standard class, and to reiterate my American comparison, can you imagine Obama travelling with the American equivalent of RyanAir?
The Chancellor’s low opinion ratings may also play a part in his aide’s choice of words. When challenged about it, the Chancellor said: “My job as Chancellor of the Exchequer is to confront those problems [deficit and economic growth] head on, not to try and win some popularity contest”. He continued, “a chancellor at a time like this who was very popular would probably not be taking the necessary decisions to fix the problems. I am having to take some difficult decisions. It’s not easy cutting welfare bills. It’s not easy cutting the deficit.”
Osborne has faced criticism from his Labour counterpart Ed Balls for being a ‘part-time Chancellor’, yet first class allows businessmen, journalists, and other professionals the comfort and space to carry out work, so why not our politicians too? Of course, they should always do this using their own money, which Osborne has done.
With employment at an all time high, the deficit 25 per cent less than it was in 2010, unemployment falling, and as of today (October 25), the economy growing, surely the Chancellor, who is facing a monumental task of clearing a deficit that even before the financial crash stood at 5.2 per cent of boom-time GDP, can be afforded some luxury on a journey back to London? Or have we entered an age where we want to see our leaders suffer?
The latter is a dangerous mindset to have. If we want our politicians to become ‘more like us’, we need to treat them as such. The more we become and feel disconnected from politicos, the more they become disconnected from us, which is simply not a good situation to be in.
The expenses scandal that tore open parliament in 2009 is still fresh in most people’s minds. MPs, morally, should only claim for things that are a necessity to their role as an MP. Although there are many work-related advantages related to travelling first-class, it simply is not a necessity. But if MPs, such as Osborne, wish to use their own money to secure an upgrade to first-class, they should be afforded that possibility. There are few people who would, if they were able to, decline such an opportunity.
To the MPs who do abuse the expenses system to claim for such unnecessary expenditure, I would say this: you simply cannot claim to be on the side of ordinary people, then pick their pockets so you can lead a life of luxury.
Full credit to Osborne for not abusing the system in this way.