George Osborne whiling away his time watching films is the weirdest thing about #traingate

by Jonathan Todd

George Osborne’s journey south on Friday enlivened the afternoon and made a bad week even worse for his party. Most attention has focused on his unwillingness to travel pleb class and allegedly to pay the full fare for the standard that he thinks he requires.

All of which strikes me as ill-considered. But it’s the watching films on a train journey on a Friday afternoon that strikes me as profoundly odd and a touch troubling. It makes me worry about the man and our politics.

So, he wants to travel first class?

That doesn’t look good these days. The leader of the opposition was informed a few weeks ago on the Thick of It: “It is career suicide. You may as well shit in the aisle.”

I travel quite frequently on the same west coast mainline as Osborne. I manage to work in standard class. The main barrier is the unreliability of Virgin’s wi-fi but it is perfectly possible to put a shift in before pulling in at Euston.

That said, as much as few politicians would admit it, I imagine there is something in Gyles Brandreth’s view that politicians of Osborne’s standing only meet people who are right and people who have problems, eager to put them right and share their problems. Such people would be a hindrance to work. But, these days, even those in first class are likely to consider themselves to have problems and to be eager to share with the chancellor their thoughts on putting right our moribund economy.

Overall, then, a politician in first class is as attractive as shit in the aisle and may not add to the politician’s productivity.

But refusing to pay for an upgrade?

That’s unspeakably daft. So much so that I am inclined to suspect that Downing Street and Virgin trains may be justified in denying that there was an altercation about paying for the upgrade.

However, for argument’s sake, let’s assume his aide did quibble over paying for the first class travel that Osborne insisted upon. What does that tell us?

It tells us that he doesn’t want to meet the kind of people that Brandreth describes. That might be understandable. But it still casts his judgment in a bad light: both in thinking that first class was the right place to sit and in employing a moron.

What, though, does the watching of films tell us?

It speaks of a deep complacency about the task that he has the immense privilege and pleasure to have been given and a warped sense of priority.

Few strivers would countenance watching films on a mid-week afternoon. It would seem absurd and indulgent to them – it certainly would to me. And I do not have an economy to run; just a very small business to grow.

I always look upon train journeys as good opportunities to get writing or reading done. I’ve written many an Uncut piece on buses crawling along the Walworth Road.

George is different.

Was his red box really empty? Were there no unanswered letters from constituents? Is he quite sure that all aspects of government policy are optimally attuned to deliver jobs and growth?

A chancellor chillaxing on a mid-week afternoon brings to mind Bill Shankly: “to waste the public’s time is a terrible crime” (see 6 minutes and 54 seconds into this amazing documentary). It is a degradation of duty.

It also makes me wonder about how Osborne sees himself and his life. For how many years has he sought the job he now holds? For how many years will he live as an ex-Chancellor? Will he ever be as vivid, urgent and alive as he should be in this post? Shouldn’t he work 15 hours a day 7 days a week out of sheer undiluted joy of service?

Instead, bizarrely, he watches films. He should stand aside for someone interested in doing the job if he isn’t.

Jonathan Todd is Labour Uncut’s economic columnist

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11 Responses to “George Osborne whiling away his time watching films is the weirdest thing about #traingate”

  1. ROGER THE PILOT says:

    Considering that the Conservative led Coalition Government is headed by an ex-PR man, it’s hard to believe their constant bad-press!

    What on earth was George Osborne thinking? Just as one pompous ass finally does the right thing by resigning over making inappropriate ‘class’ remarks to police officers on protection duty, up pops young Gideon and put’s his size ten, beautifully polished Berluti brogues, right back in it by travelling ‘first-class’ on a standard ticket!

    Whether or not the chancellor paid for the up-grade from ‘pleb’ class, (sorry not PC) standard to first is immaterial; he and the rest of the Government should remember that during the MPs’ expenses scandal the bad press that ex-tory MP for Macclesfield, Sir Nicholas Winterton suffered over his blustering remarks about MPs’ need to travel first-class.

    At the time, this was qualified by Sir Nicholas stating there was a “totally different type of people” in standard-class train carriages!

    One thing’s for certain; some members of the Tory party have learnt nothing; they still appear to be totally inept when it comes to dealing with the media.

  2. SadButMadLad says:

    Whilst George Osborne has mismanaged the whole situation which he put himself into through his stupid actions, I think it pretty weird that the worst thing that Osbrone did was watch a film.

    You pride yourself on working on trains and buses. (Well done for shooting down the case for HS2 by the way as the whole point of it seems to be that people can’t work on trains so they need to get to London quicker.) Others might take the opportunity to relax and re-charge their batteries before a major meeting at the end of their journey.

  3. The desire to extract every pound of flesh from this story can lead to some odd lines of attack.

    A Friday afternoon is not mid week and by 3.30, most people in a professional role have worked far more hours than required by their contract of employment. I imagine most ministers are heading out of London, not towards it on a Friday afternoon, so this hardly fits with the lazy politicians narrative.

    Also were you a constituent would you really want your MP to be dealing with your correspondence in a public place?

  4. Jon says:

    What film was he watching? If you don’t know, how do you know he was watching a film and not (say) a news clip?

  5. swatantra says:

    Where was Poor Georges PR man?
    1. Is it not a fact that Poor George travels frequently from Wilmslow 2nd Class and not 1st Class. And is that not to be commended?
    2 On this occassion no seat was available in 2nd and so Poor George had to resort to 1st Class and waited for the Inspector to upgrade his ticket rather than searching out the Inspector the length and breadth of the train.
    3 Is it not a fact that sometimes on a 2 hr journey you don’t want to be accosted by the usual drunken pleb/football hooligan who insists sitting next to you even though they haven’t a clue who you are, but just want time to unwind; and the best way to do that is catch up on a film you’d never had time to see because of your busy schedule. Incidently The Draughtsman’s Contract is on BBC iPlayer George and well worth watching for the 5th time so you get an idea of what its really all about.
    4 How come a journalist sitting in 1st Class for anyway, when you know they earn a meagre salary; could they be claiming unreasonable expenses.
    5 The best form of defence is attack. But there is no doubt that Mitch went to save Poor Georges neck and kill a story, which really is a non-story when you come to think of it in the broad light of day.

  6. Tris says:

    Who was the Tory MP who decided to stand down rather than accept that he would have to travel second class? Winterton, wasn’t it?

    He pointed out that the people in second class were of a different type.


    When there are not enough seats in second class, the rest of us have to stand.

  7. David says:

    Agree with Gary above – if you work with confidential documents, as “Giddy”on does, then you really shouldn’t be working on them on a public train. leak risk is huge particularly given the number of journalists on the train! cf Oliver Letwin / The Thick of It / other Gov ministers.

  8. Jonathan Todd says:

    Gary/David – Is there really no work that he can do that doesn’t involve confidential documents? He could read a few Martin Wolf columns at the very least.

    Jon – It was reported elsewhere that he was watching films. I admit that I have just accepted these reports as true but I see no reason not to.

    SadButMadLad – We all need to relax. But I think Osborne has plenty of reasons to approach his work with more urgency than he displayed last Friday.

  9. Bin says:

    113 Labour MPs, 48 Tories and 19 Lib Dems have claimed first class rail tickets over the past year.

    Of 24 MPs who recouped the cost of luxury flights, 14 were Labour MPs, one was a Tory, six were Lib Dems, and three were members of the SNP.

    Really, Labour are so far out of touch with the electorate on all issues. This is the working class Labour party is it? It angers me so much that Labour have drifted so far away from their roots to this millionaire-lead party who feel they are entitled to first class, paid for by the taxpayer.

    The Tories, at least we all know what you get with them. Why are Labour massively disproportionately represented among the First Class MPs?

  10. David says:


    I presume your comment re newspaper columns is a joke? I strongly suspect that there is very little that the Chancellor looks at that could be viewed as non-confidential. The only examples I could think of would be published research or recently published reports. Even then, at his level, I’d expect he’d want to receive summaries of such documents coupled to analysis by his relevant experts as to the findings of those reports. Again, if I were him, I wouldn’t read them in a public place.

    I find myself in the unusual position of defending Osborne here. Given the need to travel and be discreet in what he reads where, I suspect he uses the downtime in public spaces to relax a little and do his work in the evenings / weekends when in private. Give the guy a break here

  11. David – Surely my point in suggesting Martin Wolf columns is obvious enough?

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