Clegg blasts Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton: “Sadly some MPs still just don’t get it …”

Nick Clegg has just tweeted his reaction to Sir Nicholas Winterton’s railing against moves to reduce first-class train travel by MPs – the Tory MP said he needed “peace and quiet” while travelling, and that standard class carriages are occupied by “a totally different type of people.”

The Lib Dem leader’s having none of it, slamming Sir Nicholas’s plea with an exasperated one-liner:

“Sadly some MPs still just don’t get it …”

Well quite. The Tories have been quick to disown Sir Nicholas, acidly dismissing “the out-of-touch views of a soon-to-retire backbench MP”.

The trouble is the Tory party does have a bit of form. As Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson reminds us, the Tory chairman Eric Pickles hardly covered himself in glory on the BBC’s Question Time last year when he defended his second home on the more-than-dubious grounds that as an MP he has to be in work on time. Let’s remind ourselves once again of that perfect moment of car-crash telly:

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  • It seems what he said was “And now they want to stop members of Parliament travelling first class. That puts us below local councillors and officers of local government. They all travel first class. Majors in the army travel first class. So we are supposed to stand when there are no seats. And why are we going to waste our time when we can work on the train as we do. I’m sorry. It infuriates me”

    I think he has a point..

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Feb '10 - 5:35pm

    I must say it’s quite funny to see Norman Baker attacking Winterton for his comments, and then admitting that he himself travelled first class “when the layout of seats meant it was not possible to work in standard class”. The difficulty of working in standard class being the main point Winterton was making …

  • I don’t have a problem with MP’s travelling first class after all sometimes peace and quiet is required.
    It’s the elitist arrogance of his argument that offends me.

  • Andrew Tennant 18th Feb '10 - 6:23pm

    Anything that leads to MPs living more like the common man is a good thing. Perhaps if they experience ‘cattle class’ with the rest of us then they’ll prioritise the improvements needed to up the standard of train services and have something worthwhile to raise with the train operators when negotiating the franchises.

  • Sure, it’s good to be able to work on trains – but if MPs had to slum it with the rest of us it might make them a bit keener to improve the rail service.

  • Ruth Bright 18th Feb '10 - 6:41pm

    The Winterton comments gave me a giggle. In 2007 I took my baby to Spring Conference and bought a First Class ticket as he’d never been on a train before and I thought it would give us a bit more space. Imagine my horror when the lttle devil decided to wail his head off when Chris Huhne was giving a phone interview in the seat behind us.

    I am taking my son (now aged three) by train to conference in March and we are sticking to pleb class where we won’t disturb any MPs doing important stuff.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 18th Feb '10 - 6:59pm

    The work issue would be a legitimate point but one has to suspect it is not really what he had in mind.

    He did not say, “I need to go in First Class to work in peace and quiet and with space to read confidential papers.”

    He sais, “a different sort of person” and “below local councillors” as if it is a question of status. Words that sound like those of a snob.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Feb '10 - 7:33pm

    “He did not say, “I need to go in First Class to work in peace and quiet and with space to read confidential papers.””

    Actually, if you could be bothered to click through and read the BBC article, that’s almost exactly what he did say:

    “Sir Nicholas, an MP since 1971, told BBC Radio 5 live that MPs worked “extremely hard” and used the time travelling between London and their constituencies to work.
    But he said to do that they had to have a seat – something you could not always get in standard class.
    And he said: “If I was in standard class I would not do work because people would be looking over your shoulder the entire time, there would be noise, there would be distraction.”
    He added: “They are a totally different type of people.
    “There’s lots of children, there’s noise, there’s activity. I like to have peace and quiet when I’m travelling.”
    Sir Nicholas said he was not saying people who used standard class were inferior but that, in general, they were not working while travelling. “

  • Cllr Patrick Smith 18th Feb '10 - 8:21pm

    The plea by Sir Nicolas Winterton MP to be allowed to claim first class fares,to work on train journeys, does not hold water.He should travel in second class and suffer the slings and arrows of normal family travellers for the majority oft the British voters.

    Norman Baker MP is correct to remind us that Sir Nicolas Winterton is emblematic of the same old Tory attitude that looks back to the past.

    Clearly the Tory friends of Sir Nicolas Winterton are not part of an integrated Liberal community that respects all people regardless of birth.

    Why should Sir Nicolas be able to claim first class privilege in 2010 when he could easilty work his lap top in second?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Feb '10 - 8:28pm

    “He should travel in second class and suffer the slings and arrows of normal family travellers …”

    Slings and arrows? I didn’t know it was that bad! It is a bit difficult to work when people are shooting at you …

    PS It’s been known as “standard class” for the last few decades,

  • Look, it’s simple really. Anyone using the public purse should be refunded for second class travel. If they want to travel First Class, they can pay the difference themselves.

  • martin’s right, they should be able to claim the usual 2nd class fare and then top up if they want. As it happens, I don’t drive and do go first class (I pay my own way) because standard class can be grim – but it’s the fault of the train companoes and regulators, and not the people that are travelling.

    besides, I don’t want to pay my own way and then be disturbed by loads of useless freeloaders!

  • Relatively sympathetic to Winterton on this – but of course Martin Land is right.

  • When I said sympathetic, I meant he had a point, not that he was out of touch or all the rest of it. As a regular standard class passenger, I think he is mistaken that work can’t be done, but on the other hand I have no problem with MPs being on 1st.

  • Andrew Tennant 19th Feb '10 - 3:57pm


    You’re confusing First and Standard Class tickets with Advance and Walk On Fare tickets. Standard class is in general cheaper than First; Advance purchase tickets (which limit you to a particular train, route or the off-peak time period) are again cheaper than Standard Walk-On fares (which can be used on any train on the day of purchase for the outward leg and for any return journey on the same route within a calendar month. There is nothing to stop MPs requiring the flexibility to use a variety of scheduled departing trains from purchasing a walk-on Standard fare ticket.

    Overall I think the message is that if the rail system and rail fares are inadequate for MPs uses shouldn’t it be important to acknowledge and fix it; the rest of us have to pay our own way and aren’t protected from difficulties in life by taxpayers’ money and the Westminster bubble.

  • I think there is a point in letting MP travel first class, but as pointed out by Lynne to have 2.5 hours as a starting point is a bit silly (you can get a lot of work done in 2.5 hours).
    The thing is most London MPs travel on the Tube every day with Joe Public, and have never read of any getting into any sort of trouble.

    The thing here was Sir Nicholas Winterton was not the best person to speak on it, and I am glad he is one of the many of the Old School Tories standing down in a few weeks time.

  • As a non car driver I have travelled on trains a fair bit in my life and have never felt the need to travel first class. I have seen plenty of people working in standard class with no issues. Yes it can be noisy on occasion but most trains are reasonably quiet certainly quit enough to maintain a reasonable level of concentration. If really necessary then there are often spare seats in other carriges that you can move to.

    As for the comment about no seats its pretty fatuous seeing as it is perfectly possible to book specific seats even in standard class (indeed bokking in advance is significantly cheaper). I expect most MPs know which train they will be travelling on bewteen their consituency and London so can book themselves a seat if they want to work.

    I totally agree with Martin Land, if MPs want to travel by first class let them but they should only be able to claim up to the cost of a standard class ticket.

  • Winterton is an ass [an opinion – clearly he is not physically a donkey].

    His argument makes sense on one narrow point (better working environment) and fails on so many levels.

    1. Plenty of people work quite adequately in Standard Class.
    2. If there are no seats you stand. Er, like anyone else.
    3. If the noise of fellow travellers is a nuisance try earphones or similar.
    4. Euston to Macclesfield takes under 2 hours. Wonder how much working time he actually achieves? Presumably he refuses any freebie food that might get in the way of all that hard work?
    5. Of course, he could spend time talking to some real human beings outside the Westminster bubble – especially in Standard Class.
    6. There are plenty of railway routes in Britain where the trains are single-class only. How on earth do MPs in those areas cope?
    7. A lot of local authorities have scrapped First Class travel for members – mine did it nearly 20 years ago!

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