Nice work by veteran Conservative MP Nicholas Winterton this week. I’m sure his PR is fuming after he alienated an entire swathe of standard-class rail travellers in one fail swoop when referring to them as a ‘different type of person’.
Already on a very thin ground, Winterton called the new expenses culture “infuriating”, moaning that he may no longer be able to claim for first-class train travel and complaining about the “totally different type of people” in standard class. He was arguing that MPs would not be able to get enough work done in standard class because of the noise and disturbance from children.
Unsurprisingly, the Tory party moved to distance itself from Winterton, saying that he was “out of touch”. Not half.
You’d think an MP with his expense track record would think much more carefully before commenting on this kind of thing. Winterton previously claiming parliamentary allowances with his wife Ann, who is also an MP, for rent of £20,000 a year on a flat they transferred to a family trust after paying off the mortgage.
Winterton said MPs needed to be able to work in peace when travelling between parliament and their constituencies. “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.”
Referring to standard-class passengers: “They are a totally different type of people. There are lots of children, there’s noise, there’s activity. I like to have peace and quiet when I’m travelling.” Though he denied saying that MPs were better than ordinary people. “I didn’t say they weren’t as good, but they are in a different walk of life. They are doing different things. Very often they are there with children.
“I believe that the facilities extended by the rail companies to travel first class are very valuable for businesspeople and I include in that category MPs.”
Of course, his comments prompted a strong online reaction. By mid-afternoon that day there were hundreds of comments on the BBC website. “Live in the real world like the rest of us,” said one. “I regularly travel from London to Liverpool and am also expected to work on the train. I go standard class and manage fine.” Others pointed out that there are “quiet carriages” in standard class. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said on Twitter: “Sadly some MPs still just don’t get it.”
The Conservative party’s spokesperson responded that Winterton’s remarks were “the out-of-touch views of a soon-to-retire backbench MP”, adding “they do not in any way represent the views of David Cameron or that of the Conservative party and should be treated as such.”
Winterton, who has been in the Commons for 39 years, told Total Politics magazine that he was now “looking forward” to standing down as an MP at the coming election.
His wife is also standing down.