Harriet Walker: Don't pretend you're putting yourself in our shoes, Ed

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The Independent Online

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and all that.

And all the more so if that head is travelling on Ryanair, as David Cameron did last week, we can safely assume. It's the budget airline that makes you pay extra for breathing space, let alone a padded headrest to drift off on. In fact, the only head that seems to be resting easily right now is that of Ed Miliband, whose aides were caught removing the first class paraphernalia from his train seat shortly before he gave a TV interview from its cosy embrace.

What fools they both take us for. Of course politicians travel first class; we in steerage know this better than anyone else. It's not like you ever spot any of them crammed in there among the screaming children and crates of chickens. It's as if, with the close of the swishy doors and the rumble of the complimentary drinks trolley, there comes a certain childlike naivety – like the conviction that no one will know if you stick your finger in the immaculate chocolate icing of a freshly made cake and then vigorously deny it. We know, Ed – but you're the one making a fuss about it.

And likewise, we know that the Camerons fly Ryanair only to redirect their nosediving popularity ratings. Their visceral distaste once installed in their seats must have been quite the thing to behold: David trying to avoid putting his Church's loafers in the sticky patch on the floor, Samantha trying to decide whether a Twix or a tub of Pringles was more worth the £4 they ask for them.

Bring back the good old days, when the pretending was half-hearted, to say the least. Remember when Tony and Cherie announced they were staying at a pal's house for the summer? The pal turned out to be Cliff Richard and the house was a mansion in Barbados. And when Mandy went out on a pedalo for the day? It was a yacht owned by Lord Rothschild, followed by a stay in his secluded hilltop villa.

But Ed's removal of his controversial antimacassar is indicative of the piety that has overwhelmed the political sphere now that the good old days have turned sour. And, like most piety, it's as empty and resonant as the public coffers. It's the ultimate embodiment of "Do as I say, not as I do".

With those in Westminster decrying our spending and our reliance on debt, there is a general movement toward Lutheran thriftiness of the sort that involves a hair shirt and sleeping on a stone floor. (Needless to say, they're all wrapped in silk and eiderdowns.) We must suffer, they imply, before it all gets better again; we must forgo our creature comforts and the extra log on the fire, because this is the time for belt-tightening.

Which is why it sticks in the craw. Not, as you would first assume, to see George Osborne and family jetting off to Klosters – oh no! At least Gideon knows we wouldn't be fooled by the sight of him in the Ryanair queue; we'd assume he was heading to the Silverjet parked behind it. No, what is more galling beyond expression is when we see politicians politely sidestepping the penury they impose on us while pretending they're not. Cameron's self-imposed budget flight is a drop in the ocean, while Miliband's egregious self-editing is simply annoying. They should just admit to being in a position fortunate enough to be able to live well and travel in luxury. Why pretend? If the country really is going to hell, at least it's in a plush handcart. And, of course, all these first class tickets are doubtless being claimed on expenses anyway.