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.