The coalition is looking more clumsy by the day. Yesterday chief whip Andrew Mitchell was forced to resign four weeks after swearing at a police officer in Downing Street and allegedly calling him a pleb. The same day, Chancellor George Osborne was spotted travelling first class on a Virgin train to London despite only having a standard class ticket.
ITV reporter Rachel Townsend tweeted about the incident, suggesting Osborne’s aide disputed the need to pay for an upgrade. Virgin claims there was no dispute.
The amazing thing is that Osborne didn’t have the common sense to see how the incident would be perceived. The Mitchell saga has highlighted the government’s reputation as a cabinet of millionaires out of touch with the real world. The sight of a very rich Chancellor refusing to travel standard class reinforces that image. Yes, many of us have resented paying through the nose for a ticket yet not having a seat. But we’re not going to be embarrassed by media coverage of slyly sitting in first and hoping not to have to upgrade. Osborne’s expensive Eton education doesn’t seem to have included lessons in common sense.
The Mitchell saga was bizarre. It excited the politicos, but had little impact in the real world. Mitchell was foolish to pick a row with a police officer, but he’s not the first person to fly off the handle after a bad day. The police haven’t emerged unscathed: leaking the officer’s report to the papers and using it as a political weapon. But the biggest lesson is that an early, sincere apology goes a long way to defuse a row. Had Mitchell offered one, rather than a late, grudging apology, he’d still be chief whip. Instead, he’s reinforced impressions of the Tories as a bunch of toffs.