OK this is it – senior staff and politicians holding official positions should travel first class even in these hard times.

Phew, that’s got it out.  I await the ritual shower of abuse from my fellow citizens.

Actually, I don’t claim unique ownership of this shaft of insight.

Saturday’s Financial Times (the best UK daily newspaper bar none) had an excellent article by columnist Matthew Engel on the subject, headed Britain buys a one-way ticket to second-class politics.

Selected bits are worth quoting

Gordon Brown, then prime minister, expelled generals and admirals from first-class compartments.  After the election, when Mr Brown was deposed, the pace increased.  The new regime imposed the same ban on civil servants…even though it can actually be cheaper to travel in first…

…Second-class compartments on British trains are cramped, generally noisy, usually crowded and sometimes standing-room only or, unless you have the temperament of a Buddhist monk, switch off and nap…

…[Say] Mr Clegg [non-Brits – our deputy prime minister] travels to his constituency [in Sheffield] every fortnight.  That means he would be spending not far off 5 per cent of his working-time on these trains.  If he can’t work in those hours he is not saving the taxpayer money…

…[relating the trend to the private sector] the rise of the corporate CFO, trained to know the price of everything and the value of nothing…found travel costs the easiest of all to cut.

Well you (I) can’t dispute any of that or the rest of Engel’s conclusions, which he dubs the fashion for hair-shirt travel.  It all rings true.

What he doesn’t do is lead on to two things that would help

  • maybe slightly sneakily, do away with the phrase first class and retitle it business class, a more accurate reflection of the majority of travellers in those parts of the average British inter-city train
  • make advanced reservation of a numbered seat compulsory on all longer distance trains.  Spanish railways have been doing it for decades and it beats me why the perennially growing and arguably technologically advanced UK rail industry cannot achieve the same civilised end.

That’s all!