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First class row over train fares

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Stephen Nolan | 13:58 UK time, Thursday, 18 February 2010


What a pleasure it is to be on the network during the day! I'm used to 'doing battle' with Ulster politicians every day - its what my usual daily morning show on BBC Radio Ulster is all about - and the politicians in Northern Ireland give me as good as they get over there. I love it!

That grounding proved useful today when I interviewed the Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton. He was arguing that MPs needed to travel first class on trains and it was right that the public purse should pay for it.

Sir Nicholas kept on talking about the "status of a MP" and it intrigued me that he seemed to be saying politicians were somehow different than others.

What did he mean? Are you ready for his reply?

He said people travelling on the significantly cheaper standard tickets had "a different outlook on life". And he added, "If I was in standard class, I would not do work because people would be looking over your shoulder the entire time."

Are people in standard more likely to "look over your shoulder"? Is he comfortable saying this on a national network? Clearly, he is.

When I asked him whether he thought standard-class passengers behaved differently from those with first class tickets, Sir Nicholas replied: "Yes, I do. They are a totally different type of people. There are lots of children, there is noise, there is activity."

He went on to say, "They have a different outlook on life. I very much doubt whether they are undertaking serious work and study, reading reports and amending reports which MPs do when they are travelling."

Sometimes a politician will say something in the heat of an interview that they don't mean to, and I was in good form today, so I gave Sir Nicholas a chance to retract his "different type of people" bombshell.

He responded: "They very often have a different outlook, of course they do, because they are in a different area of activity."

His comments prompted a huge response from you. Take a look at the 5 live Now page to get a sense of the reaction.

My Twitter account has been going ballistic both during and after the show.
Please continue to send me your tweets - I will reply to as many of you as I can.

Some of the cool interactive dudes in here have informed me I describe my Twitter address in an old fashioned way - so for those of you a lot cooler than me, you can tweet me @stephennolan

You can listen to a clip from the interview below

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And you can listen to the full interview for the next 7 days on the 5 live website.

Stephen Nolan is usually on 5 live on Friday to Sunday, from 10pm to 1am.

This week, he's been standing in for Victoria Derbyshire between 10am and noon.


  • Comment number 1.

    What a dinosaur. Voters beware, this is Conservatism at it's most apparent - classist, arrogant, utterly detached from the lives of ordinary people.

  • Comment number 2.

    Loved it Stephen-with-a-ph! Great radio - hope you get a Sony Award and replace VD!

  • Comment number 3.

    Ooh, come on Radio Five Live, you're being like a dog with a bone on this issue. To paraphrase Bob Mortimer, "You just won't let it lie will you?" With the exception of most of the blessed two hour relief of Richard Bacon's brilliant guest list, made up of Roger Daltrey, John Ratzenberger and Vampire Weekend, it seems that the Five Live presenters and co-broadcasters have talked about little else since the interview in question, on Stephen Nolan's latest stint as stand-in for the Derbyshire meistress this morning. I listened to the interview, and the only purpose it served for me was to confirm only what I have hitherto suspected with a strong degree of certitude. That is, that Sir Nicholas Winterton is a typical old school, old style, right-wing, public school educated Tory toff whose views on a wide range of issues are, in the main, sufficiently right-wing to merit consideration for membership of the British National Party. Nobody who knows even the slightest thing about him would (or at least should) be surprised by his statements about second-class rail travel. By the way, I'm half in agreement with him about the behaviour of some people who travel on trains in second-class compartments, what he virtually implied is a fair assessment - ie - there are some real riff-raff on public transport in general - and I speak as someone of a political persausion which is left of centre, however, I have the sense of conscience to comport myself in an appropriate manner when travelling by rail or bus. That doesn't mean, however, that the taxpayer should be expected to blithely subsidise the cost of his rail fares so that he may segregate himself "hois-palois". Sir Nicholas is essentially a self-important, self-serving backbench MP who believes he is above the rules and requirements that "ordinary" people are expected to abide by. One of life's "boss class", he believes that he deserves respect, gratitude and considerable financial reward in return for his no doubt self-perceived outstanding services to country, party, constituency and constituents. In short, in the House of Commons, he is an eccentric among eccentrics - a right-wing old duffer. On the other hand, Stephen Nolan is a loud-voiced, self promoting, opportunistic broadcaster. Some six hours after the interview between Stephen Nolan and Sir Nicholas Winterton was broadcast, I'm still trying to decide which is less worthy of esteem, self-serving, gravy train riding MP, or overbearing, believes-his-own-publicity presenter? Thank goodness that, as I write this, I'm being transported back in to radio paradise in listening to the worldy-wise, avuncular and ultra-professional voice of the great Peter Allen...

  • Comment number 4.

    Anyone wanting to work privately and quietly should be entitled to do so and have somewhere to do so. He is quite right to consider the 1st Class as the only place in which he might do so - both children and adults in the second class compartments can be unbearably noisy and respect for other people in general nowadays is hard to find. However, whether MP's should be entitled to a 1st Class ticket or not is open to debate, but they can exercise their power of choice and could upgrade to first class accordingly by simply delving into their own pockets to do so!

  • Comment number 5.

    Isn't this a bit absurd? Sure, I agree that Sir Nicholas sounded like a pompus idiot and he expressed himself clumsily to say the least. But I don't think he's out of touch at all.

    Firstly: There may be times when you CAN work in Standard Class but there are at least as many occasions when you simply CANNOT. If you buy 1st class tickets in advance then they are MUCH cheaper than upgrading to 1st Class on the train (A recent programme on 5Live illustrated this very well). Even ONE upgrade may cost more than 5 or 6 1st class tickets bought in advance. So suggesting that MP's always try and travel Standard and upgrade only when it is too busy may actually work out more expensive.

    Secondly: If 1st Class cost exactly the SAME price as Standard Class would anyone have a problem with MP's travelling 1st Class? Probably not.

    SO it is really about a few quid here and there. Occasionally maybe more than a few pounds but if tickets are purchased wisely then the difference is really not so great on most routes. It comes down to cost.

    Finally: Do you want the BEST government you can have OR the CHEAPEST government you can have?

    There are bound to be plenty of people who think the two are not mutually exclusive but I think many would agree that to avoid having parliament stuffed with the already wealthy (who have no need of the income) or with the inept (who couldn't earn more elsewhere) you need to provide the pay and the environment to do the job.

  • Comment number 6.

    How fascinating, yesterday Nolan gives Theresa May a brutal time, yet acts like a pussycat towards the Labour MP who, remember are actually IN government. Today, he manages to make something controversial out of an MP who has a desire to work in peace for time taken up by travelling for which he is paid by the taxpayer. I'm sure there would howls of derision if he was seen propping up the bar. What hypocrites some of you are! And besides Nolan's interviewing skills are not much more than neanderthal!

    Then on Drive, an NHS hospital in Cambridge is being given up to be run privately as it is in massive debt - a topic I thought was anathema to the Labour party and supporters and no challenge or even a hint of a challenging questioning.

    Your red petticoats are really showing, aren't they BBC?

  • Comment number 7.

    A blog for Drivetime? Blimey , it MUST be a big story!

    Dotty Tory Toff says silly things on the radio. Thank heavens he is standing down.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think that this was more about Nolan, now I have read that piece above: "...I was in good form today".

    Fact is, as I posted elsewhere, this bombastic set up was appalling from many angles, Nolan's hypocrisy about expenses and costing the tax payer however much was just as bad as Winterton's. However, I would rather casework for constituents, and report reading, was done somewhere discreetly and not where it could be surreptitiously read by the person sitting by me. Having spent an awful lot of time on trains recently, in standard, I have met a huge number of people drinking all sorts, eating all sorts, phoning constantly, playing games on their phones, and so on. If I had had to concentrate I doubt I could have done it.

    Nolan and the BBC should just remember we pay his expenses, and as I see on the "Answering your questions about Five Live" post number 352 blog elsewhere that they are not allowed under FoI regs to be exposed to us the payers, I like to think it is because the vast cost of him and his commutes is adding to his not inconsiderable something or other........... no, not status, something else. By the way, I watched the awful gym sequence, oh dear oh dear, oh dear.

    The BBC is totally biassed. They won't be when the election is over though, they will be the main opposition and leading the charge. We never got to hear about the real point of having Winterton on, so I suppose that will be tomorrow's complaint.

    And how can you lead the news with this all day, when there is so much more that is important to us all, than a retiring MP losing track of policy?

    I suppose you have got Livesey's programme sorted out with this stuff too.

  • Comment number 9.

    Gavin Corder! I hope you were writing tongue in cheek. We all know about how you win a Sony.................

  • Comment number 10.

    Do tell carrie ;)

  • Comment number 11.

    From Sony website: "The judges represent a broad cross-section of backgrounds, be they presenters, journalists, producers or broadcasting professionals, but all are united in their endeavours by their love of radio."

    From Sony website: Why you should enter......"Numerous careers have been significantly helped on their way as a result of an association with success in these awards. If your work is nominated, or actually awarded, then it can also serve as a truly effective inspiration to the rest of us in keeping UK radio at the very forefront of worldwide radio."

    From Sony website: Your audio submission: "When submitting a compilation, remember that first impressions count. Ensure your audio is compulsive listening right from the very start. It’s fine for any climax to come later – but the winning entry will be one the judges can’t stop listening to from the moment they press ‘play’."

    I guess the wee man will have something to do in his lonely hotel room. sadly he has missed this year's deadline for - "YOUR submission"!!

  • Comment number 12.

    I listened to a lot of the interview and Winterton really did show that he is an arrogant, pompous first class ass. I think what he meant to say was that some people travelling on trains are not travelling for business reasons. Perhaps they are going on holiday or on a day out and they are naturally excited and this shows in their behaviour. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does not go hand in hand with someone wanting to carry out important work. For that reason, and that reason alone, he felt he had the right to travel first class and have us, the taxpayer's, pay for him to do this.

    In reality, you can have people behaving badly in first class as well as standard and that is why you can find quiet zones on trains. These areas are designed for people wanting to work. You cannot use iPods or mobile phones. They have tables which even have electric plug points so it is possible to work whilst you are travelling without having to fork out a fortune to travel first class.

    What a shame one of our elected MPs who, according to Winterton, are a different status to other people, could not put the words together to explain his feelings more clearly.

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree this was more about Nolan now that I have read the piece and his hypocracy about expenses and costing the taxpayer however much was just as bad as Winterton.
    Nolan is clearly not an impartial broadcaster and I look forward to his stint ending as a fill in.

  • Comment number 14.

    Steve Nolan's conversation with Nicholas Winterton was brilliant. He just gave the MP a spade & let him carry on diggingg himself into a hole. I just hope that Winterton does not have to travel by standard class on the railway when he ceases to be an MP. It would be very embarrassing if the habits of we ordinary people caused him to feel uncomfortable. How does he get on when he visits the local supermarkets in Macclesfield? Or does he send his maid or butler to do the shopping for him? Life must be very difficult at times.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.


    Yes that's right. Nolan costs the tax payer far more money in one year than the MP travelling on train. The BBC has made sure of that and we all know why.

    secondly, those who use this interview to point a finger at Conservatism are just as stupid because they fail to realise this man does not represent the entire Tory party.

    thirdly, aren't there Labour MPs who know no other kind of train travel other than first class? You bet there are.

    Finally, exactly what is wrong with what Sir Winterton said? Is it that 2nd class train coaches are noisy? Well they are. Is it that 2nd class travellers consists of rif rafs? Well that's also true.

    But I agree that if an MP wants to travel first class he/she should cough up the cost of the upgrade out of their own pocket. That goes for all of them, including labour MPs wishing to travel first class of which there are many.

  • Comment number 17.

    As usual Nolan's and the BBC's bias shines through. We are not stupid. The coverage given to this non story when another soldier died, amongst other more important matters is frankly shameful.

    Nolan - remember the BBC is supposed to be independent and stop twisting words to suit your ends.

  • Comment number 18.

    Very rich from our Mr Nolan, who said on Radio Ulster that he would never use public transport because he did not like sitting or standing beside smelly people.

  • Comment number 19.

    I don't suppose people like sitting next to anyone who is not of the norm in behaviour, size or attitudes. Ahem.

  • Comment number 20.

    PA71. So you imply this Nolan v Winterton episode represents BBC bias against the Tories! So in your judgement what's the political difference between New Labour and the Tories anyway?

    That's exactly why the BBC run interviews with the likes of Winterton; in order to deliberately come across as a buffoon to many impressionable listeners so that your sort will think he's being unfairly treated.

    The most noteworthy comment he made throughout this charade was when he said he needs to travel first class in order to liaise with the business community who, allegedly, will also travel first class. What he unwittingly admitted was that the whole purpose of a mainstream MP these days is not to represent their constituents interests but the interests of finance and business! This is why the whole scandal about MP's expenses has been deliberately engineered by the mainstream media to cover up this stark reality.

    The obvious argument is that if MP's wish to travel first class then they should be allowed to do so providing they pay for it out of their publicly funded salary and expenses!

  • Comment number 21.

    Nick, casting aside (if it is possible) the rank hypocrisy of a BBC who refused to release information of the transport and accommodation expenses (including the considerable expense of flying Mr Nolan around Britain and putting him up in hotels) of it's own people to allow it too be scrutinised while they rightfully interrogate MPs....

    Sir Nicholas Winterton was not asked on the programme to discuss his travel arrangements. This was an ambush. He is of course out of touch with the mood of the country, but the sensationalism of this attack and the glee with which all BBC outlets set forth 'merchandising' these comments (often out of context) was unbalanced, however inappropriate some may feel Winterton's comments were.

    There are undoubtedly other MP's, including Labour MPs who travel first class, but there was no attempt to provide a broader context.

    Furthermore the word class was abused and the used as a pejorative by the BBC, as opposed to simply used to define a quiet, more expensive space predominately used by business people doing work.

    It might have made good radio but it wasn't great journalism.

  • Comment number 22.

    Stephen Nolan is far too self regarding and I thought he came across as a bully in the Winterton interview. Winterton was invited on the programme to discuss other matters. He did express himself badly and is not really representative of the modern Conservative Party, but how many Labour politicians travel 1st Class for exactly the same reasons? Considering the amount of money the BBC spend on Nolan, flying him from Belfast to Manchester every weekend and putting him up in hotels, I don't know how he dare mention other people's expenses. Surely we have enough broadcasters in this country without having to pay for one to fly in every weekend.

    Andy Burnham, interviewed by Nolan yesterday, was treated with kid gloves in stark contrast to his interview with Nicholas Winterton and Theresa May. I thought maybe he had been asked to tone it down, but on reflection it was just the usual BBC bias.

  • Comment number 23.

    I do not agree with many things MP's say, but Mr Winterton is absolutely correct! I find it almost impossible to work in the standard class area, with screaming brats and over loud MP3 players from spotty youths - and older, who should know better. Manners seem to prevail in first class.

  • Comment number 24.

    regularcommuter: The main purpose of a train is to provide travel from a to b; not to offer tranquil facilities to do work. You can do that either at your place of work, your home or in your spare time.

  • Comment number 25.

    Where does anyone suggest we can comment on all things 5 Live before this blog is closed down like previous ones?

  • Comment number 26.

    Nick Vinehill,
    To answer your question, there is little difference in my books between New Labour and the Tories. For the last 13 years New Labour have served the rich and done little for the lower classes. Unemployment has rocketed while the rich have got richer and the poor poorer. I speak from experience.

    As for what Mr Winterton said, remind me again, why is he out of touch? What did he say that was so wrong? I heard the interview at the time and was appalled by the way he was set up, by a pompous git like Nolan of all people.

    I will not vote Labour in te next elections and I was wrong to do so last time. I am not a blind faithful supporter of one party. This is not football tribalism. This is democracy and in a healthy democracy you MUST vote out those who have disappointed and have not served you. Vote in a new fresh government and if that doesn't work have your say to vote them out next time. I hate those who vote along traditional lines and stay faithful to one party. That's not what democracy is about.

  • Comment number 27.

    Stephen Nolan on Sunday 07-03-10:

    "I don't like taking public transport."

    Why is that Steve? Is it because, as you once admited on radio ullster, that it's full of smelly people? hahaha.... so you keep taking taxis at the expense of us, you lazy fat parasite!

  • Comment number 28.

    "He said people travelling on the significantly cheaper standard tickets had "a different outlook on life"."

    Yes, of course they do - they don't live in opulent ivory towers like snouts-in-the-trough MPs!!!

  • Comment number 29.

    Interestingly, my friend who works for the MoD says that when he is required to go down to London for meetings and such like he is allowed by the rules to only take a first class train ticket or no less than a family-size hire car (not a small economical one at a lower hire rate, mark you, or his own car).

  • Comment number 30.

    Another thing; these days it is cheaper to use the car than public transport.

  • Comment number 31.

    Poor use of advertising, confusion, trains?!! Well I'm not surprised.

  • Comment number 32.

    Ah, I'm glad that this thread and popped up again... it gives me the chance to share this gem...

    "Not an MP but one must be near. Nick Robinson and crew on the Chippenham to London train. Spending my licence fee 1st class!" -- http://twitter.com/eyespymp/status/10171819320

    Mr Robinson took great glee in reporting the Winterton comments. And rightly so. However unfortuantely he seems to also like spending public money travelling first class. The difference of course being that his expenses and salary aren't public knowledge.

    The BBC narrative was that it was an outrage that MPs travelled first class. It would seem that is ok for BBC employees though.


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