Ministers don’t fear being recognised, they fear not being recognised or being confused with someone
Sometime in the next 18 months, people are going to be groping for ways to sum up what was so wonderful about the new Tory government. They will be trying to convey just what it was about the new Cameron administration that gave everyone that feeling of minty freshness. Why, they will say, was that long-delayed election like jumping into a lovely mountain stream on a hot summer day?
In these days of financial hardship, there will be a huge media appetite for those small symbolic acts that somehow defined the ethic of the nation’s new masters. Everyone will want to see which sacred cows are slaughtered, which vested interests are taken on, which received wisdom is scrapped. So today I take as my text some gloomy reflections by the late Alan Clark MP, who wondered quite what he and his fellow government ministers were doing with their lives, sitting in the back of their ministerial Rovers and contracting brain cancer while talking on their mobiles to their mistresses.
As ever, Clark had a point. If George Osborne wants to create a new aroma for the incoming Tory administration – that hates, hates, hates wasteful public spending – then he should pick up his axe and chop the ministerial car.
He quotes the melancholy diaries of Chris Mullin, the former Labour minister, to illustrate this racket: Mullin began his hilariously ineffectual ministerial career by pointing out to his civil servants that he lived on two excellent London bus routes, and therefore had no need of a car. Er, sorry, minister, they said. You can’t give up the car, because that would mean the Department of Paperclips (or whatever it was) would have to pay a penalty of £704.75p per week to the Government Car Service. And if he continued to refuse the car, and it became necessary to sell my car Atlanta – why then the department would have to pay £4,000 for “depreciation”!
Apparently there are about 170 ministerial cars; and under the mad elf and safety regime that dictates how long a driver may spend snoozing in the front seat while waiting for the minister to finish the ministerial dinner party, there are even more drivers than there are cars. The whole thing costs about £20 million per year.
He suggests that ministers can take a briefcase safely on the Tube or a bus or they could try walking. He doesn’t believe they would be badgered at the Tube station or have annoying encounteres withh members of the public on the bus. Amusingly, he says that ministers don’t fear being recognised – they fear not being recognised, or being confused with someone! Red boxes and ministerial cars are all about status he alleges and makes ministers feel important – and there is of course no reason why the taxpayer should be coughing up for that. He further recommends that this principle should apply to all pointless perks and we would save billions: just as shareholders should be more aggressive in demanding an end to the privileges of corporate fat cats.
There is a need here, he argues, to shine a light on what is going on and to know those BBC salaries. We should know exactly how many BBC chiefs are riding around in taxpayer-funded limos.
In conclusion he calls on the incoming government to end this outrage, axe the ministerial cars, and if necessary equip ministers with a “lovely red ministerial bicycle with EIIR on the saddle” – or else we will know that nothing has changed.
This full article is here in The Daily Telegraph today