The Daily Mail, the Tory house paper, splashes on plans by ministers to transform first class coaches into standard ones in order to accommodate more passengers. This is a very clever bit of PR as it enables the government to go on the attack on a day which normally would be focussed on the annual fares rises.
First class is seen as a privilege for the rich and therefore suggesting that the government wants to do away with it is good politics. The rich are under attack because of the behaviour of bankers and a growing awareness among the electorate that any benefits from the economic recovery are being creamed off by the lucky few at the top and not ordinary people. Moreover, this covers up the bad news today of rail fares rising by the rate of inflation, a real increase for most people whose wages are not keeping up with inflation. The attempt to portray the rise as a freeze clearly did not work.
So this move, clearly cooked up by No 10 spin doctors, fills all the right boxes. There is, as so often with such announcements, scant few details and that is hardly surprising. First, if the move were to be any use in accommodating more passengers, the coach layouts would have to be changed, which will be time consuming and expensive. Who, indeed, will pay? Then, of course, there are the contracts with the train operating companies. The TOCs will argue that they will lose money from the change, and therefore, again, who will pay? Indeed, the government cannot actually force the TOCs to change, as it is a commercial matter.
While broadly I am sympathetic to the idea of reducing first class accommodation, there are a myriad of obstacles to any such change happening in the near future. My bet is that nothing will come of this announcement, just as with many other such seemingly off the cuff announcements. You cannot blame the government for trying to cover up bad news, but let’s hope that the rest of the media do not swallow this without a proper appraisal.