There is a new kind of class distinction in the dining car from King’s Cross to York. Most of us — hoi polloi, relatively speaking — observe the convention that once the fishcake starters are served, it is polite to talk to the strangers with whom we happen to be sharing a table; and there is usually someone willing to start the ball rolling by pointing to a news item in the London Evening Standard and saying: ‘Honestly, this bloody government, the money they waste....’
This opening gambit has a curious effect on the other class of diner, the sleek-suited men and women who occupy the window seats because they get there first and signal by their body language that they prefer not to be spoken to. When table-talk turns to criticism of Labour policy, they sink a little deeper into their seats and bury their noses a little deeper in the spiral-bound reports on which they are making marginal notes. Take a sideways peek and you will glimpse an alien language of ‘partnership agendas’ and ‘spatial strategies’ and ‘inclusion targets’, illustrated by flow charts which to the untutored eye seem to flow nowhere that you recognise as the real world.
But what you may not be able to observe about these mysterious travellers is that when the dinner bill is presented, they settle it not with their own money, but with yours and mine. For these are the season- ticket holders on the great Labour gravy train, the pluto-quangocracy, the public sector fat cats.
They could be applicants for the £120,000 post of deputy chief executive of Hull, officially the worst performing local authority in Britain. Or £200,000-a-year NHS hospital managers from London, off for some blue-sky thinking in a luxury hotel with officials of the Northumberland and Tyne and Wear Strategic Health Authority, one of the 168 quangos scheduled for abolition if the Conservatives win the election. The ones with the sleekest suits but no ties may be £300,000-a-year members of the BBC’s executive committee. Those with a taste for the expensive end of the wine list are probably senior executives of Royal Mail or Network Rail. Those of drabber plumage but the same smug air could be any of the 150-plus Whitehall officials now earning six-figure salaries and looking forward to their guaranteed share of a public sector pension pot that will cost the nation £700 billion.
But whoever they are, they have one thing in common. They all have a stake in the status quo of Labour’s approach to public spending. They are the colonels of Gordon Brown’s New Model Army of 6.9 million public sector employees, one quarter of the entire British workforce. According to a new analysis of Office of National Statistics data by the stockbrokers Williams de Bro