Tuesday 26 July 2011

A question of class

In times of austerity, it’s not surprising that politicians should start trying to compete with each other to see who is the most parsimonious – or at least, who can give the best impression of parsimony.  Today’s story in the Western Mail returns to the subject of our elected representatives’ use of first class rail travel.
I don’t always – or even often – agree with Tory MP Simon Hart, but there is one telling comment in his robust defence of his habit of travelling first class.  He said that “This is a hair-shirt competition”.  His comment helps to confirm the basic message of the report – that MPs still just don’t get it – but it’s also a fair summary of where the debate about the travel arrangements of public servants, elected and unelected, has got to.
Perhaps there is a deeper question here which is going unasked in the rush to criticise any public servant who dares to travel first class, and that is whether there is still any justification in this day and age for there to be a distinction between travel classes anyway.  Why should there be a distinction between two ‘classes’ of people travelling on the same train?
I used to travel extensively by train on business – sometimes standard class and sometimes first class.  I certainly understand the point made by some that it’s easier to work in a first class seat, but the main reason for that is basically the extra room and guaranteed table seat due to the smaller number of seats in a given space. 
The argument about discussing matters with constituents on the phone is surely a red herring – I would no more hold a private conversation in first class than I would do so in second.  It may seem quieter, and people may be seated marginally further away from you, but it is no more possible to have a confidential conversation.  Perhaps some of them just believe that having a better class of people overhearing you is OK.
But back to the main point.  Most local services, in Wales certainly, manage perfectly well with only one class of ticket and seat.  And the biggest challenge to the rail system at the moment seems to be providing enough capacity for everyone who wants to travel to be able to do so and to be guaranteed a seat of some sort.  Having two classes of seat – and traveller – doesn’t look to me like the best way of doing that.  A single class - less crowded that standard, but less privileged than first - might be a better and more flexible way of providing the necessary capacity.


Radical Wales said...

Here, here. Abolish standard class! First class for all rail travellers!

John Dixon said...

Wasn't it Nye Bevan who once said that "Nothing's too good for the working class"?

Spirit of BME said...

I totally agree with Radical Wales (hic!)

Boncath said...

Never mind the class issue
Wales had a proper rail network pre Beeching that worked

Simon Hart is an irrelevancy

Wales needs to be able to finance and operate our own transport infrastructures without recourse to England

If we can finance our own Wales Air Ambulance service the we can do anything

Look at todays glossing over in the Western Mail of the Olympics now the GB Olympics no longer the London Olympics Peanuts for Wales as usual. I am surprised that the Welsh have not been recruited en masse on job seekers allowance to litter pick the venues What a Farce!!

maen_tramgwydd said...

When I travel on Arriva Trains Wales most of the time the trains are old, scruffy, noisy and overcrowded. I've travelled on better trains in third world countries.

So far, not one mile of track has been electrified in Wales by successive Labour and Tory governments.

The parsimonious - as far as Wales is concerned - ConDem coalition will electrify the main line from Paddington only as far as Cardiff, leaving the economy of Swansea and south west Wales to wither on the vine.

Do we see Labour, Tory and LibDem MPs and AMs climbing over themselves to work together on this issue? We do not!

Yet, £4bn plus a year is spent on killing people in Afghanistan - £40bn in total over ten years, £10bn on two gigantic aircraft carriers with no aircraft, and another £10bn on renewing Trident submarines. Not to mention over £250 million A DAY bombing Libya.

£60 million to revitalise Swansea and its hinterland is far too much - there isn't a 'business case' for doing it says Cameron. It’s truly laughable really if it wasn’t so serious. What else can Wales expect from the Tories?