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British politicians and train travel

Mrs. Blair the barrister wife of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair was caught travelling on a train without a ticket in January 2000. She was on her way to Luton to sit as a judge in Luton Crown Court and was fined 10 Pounds and the actual fare of Pounds 7.90. All electronic and printed media gave maximum publicity to the incident as it was an unthinkable mistake by the Prime Minister’s wife. They enjoyed it as much as the people. At first the rail company Thameslink was quite happy to leak the story to the media to show they treat all customers alike, no matter how rich or famous. Arthur Harriott, the ticket inspector who fined her became a hero overnight. But after sometime Arthur was sacked on a different issue.

First class carriage

He claimed that he had been victimised by Thameslink, because his confrontation with Mrs. Blair had damaged the train company’s image. He took his matter to the industrial tribunal claiming unfair dismissal. The train company must have had second thoughts of how to keep their franchise running.


Cherie Blair

Although a Thameslink spokesman denied that Mr Harriott had been sacked because of any resentment at the Cherie Blair incident. But there were raised eyebrows everywhere. Then came Tony Blair, the ex Prime Minister. He was also caught travelling on a train without a ticket. (No proof that the fare evasion illness runs through the family) He didn’t even have any money to pay the fare or the penalty. But escaped as he was the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It happened when he boarded a train to London Heathrow airport to catch a flight to the United States. He was confronted by a ticket inspector, but, didn’t have money to pay. One of his bodyguards, a police officer offered to pay the fare but the ticket inspector said it was not necessary. Blair who earned millions of Pounds filing speeches after leaving the office was let go without paying Pounds 24.50 fare with no trouble. Now, the latest incident. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in UK (Minister of Finance) George Osborne was caught travelling on a train first class with a standard class ticket. The incident happened a few days ago when Osborne travelled from Wimslow to London Euston on a Virgin train. Unfortunately for him, an ITV journalist was on board in the same carriage where Osborne sat with his female aide.

The journalist Rachel Townsend posted the incident immediately on Twitter that, despite having a standard ticket, the Chancellor had gone directly to sit in the first class carriage.

Ticket inspector

A stream of Townsend’s messages reported that an aide for Osborne had approached a ticket inspector and informed him that ‘Osborne couldn’t possibly’ sit in standard class.

She later said: “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 Pounds 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 Osborne had agreed to cough up the Pounds160.”

But a spokesman for Virgin Trains gave a different version of the story, saying that although Osborne had gone to a first-class carriage without a first-class ticket, his aide - believed to be a police officer - had agreed that the chancellor would pay the extra.

Twitter messages

“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 Pounds189.50 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.”

Osborne must have thought that this incident went unnoticed. But thanks to Townsend’s twitter messages, a large number of the press waiting for him at Euston rail station. He was ushered through a side door to avoid a situation. The press had been watching the situation unfold through Townsend’s Twitter updates.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher said: “Another day, another demonstration of how out of touch this government is. Just like Andrew Mitchell, (remember Andrew Mitchell MP who abused a police officer, he resigned as the government Chief Whip last week) George Osborne obviously thinks it’s one rule for him and another for the plebs he’s so keen to sit apart from. So much for ‘we’re all in it together’.”

The Prime Minister’s wife travels on a train with no ticket. An ex Prime Minister travels neither with a ticket nor money in his pocket. The Finance Minister travels on a first class compartment with a standard class ticket. What sort of a country do they live in? What sort of politics are they involved in? Which the Prime Minister on earth let his wife travel to work on a train? What sort of a Finance Minister travels on a train with just one aide struggling with a ticket inspector to travel comfortably? I do not know…I think they are doing politics in a very poor country.

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