Andy McSmith's Diary: DfT official apologises for comments on 'muppet' train drivers

'They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place'

The man paid to look after the interests of rail passengers has had to apologise for stirring up industrial disharmony on London Underground. 

Peter Wilkinson, the £265,000-a-year head of the Office of Rail Passenger Services at the Department of Transport, agreed to speak last week at a public meeting in Croydon, and seemingly got carried away by his own rhetoric.

According to the Croydon Advertiser, he claimed that train drivers are paid £60,000 a year to work three days a week – which must have come as a surprise to the drivers.

He added: “I’m furious about it. We have got to break them. They have all borrowed money to buy cars and got credit cards. They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place. They will have to decide if they want to give a good service or get the hell out of my industry.”

According to Mick Whelan, head of the rail union, Aslef, he also described the train drivers as “muppets”.

Mr Wilkinson – who, according to his online biography, commutes to London from his home in Vienna – has issued a statement saying: “I apologise for any offence caused by my comments.”

No devil worship on this ship

More than a decade ago, there was a flurry of excitement about a 24-year-old naval technician, Chris Cranmer, who had reportedly come out as a Satanist and been given permission by his commanding officer on HMS Cumberland to practise his religion.

Ann Widdecombe was “utterly shocked” at the time – but for her, some good news. Responding to an inquiry by a concerned member of the public, Navy Command headquarters has now stated that “no approval of Satanism/Luciferianism as a religion has been issued by the Royal Navy… We do not recognise Satanism as a formal religion, and will  not grant facilities or make time available for individual ‘worship’.” 

Exit from Brexit

Suzanne Evans of Ukip did not pretend to be pleased after Nigel Farage removed her from her post as one of the party’s deputy chairmen. The reason given was that she is running for a seat in the London Assembly, and the party’s vice-chairmen need to be focused on the referendum. 

Evans announced on her Facebook page: “I’m naturally disappointed.  I felt I was doing a good job … but I have no intention of being drawn into any disharmony.”

She is, it appears, a casualty of the ferocious dispute between competing groups each hoping to be designated as the official Leave campaign. Evans supports Vote Leave, which promotes the economic case for life outside the EU, while Farage backs Grassroots Out, which bases its argument on immigration. Farage’s former right-hand man, Raheem Kassam, has claimed that Evans’s sacking is “problematic for Vote Leave” because it weakens its claim to have cross-party backing. Or so Farage hopes.

The slow arm of the law

It is five years next month since undercover reporters from The Sunday Times caught three members of the European Parliament apparently agreeing to seek to alter EU legislation in exchange for bribes of €100,000 (£79,000). They included a former Deputy Prime Minister of Romania, Adrian Severin.

It took a long time for this case to come to court in Romania, but he has now been convicted and sentenced to three years and three months in prison. One of the others named, Ernst Strasser, was sentenced to four years by an Austrian court in 2013. The case against Zoran Thaler, from Slovakia, was dismissed.

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