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Natalie Haynes: Yes, ministers, the hair shirt rules are a daily reality for most people


Could there be a more oppressed minority in our society than cabinet ministers? I know you might want to wave words like the disabled or impoverished children around, but really, it's time for some proper perspective. Downing Street has forbidden ministers from using the Olympic lanes. Heck, they've even forbidden them from using cars to get to the Olympics. Take a deep breath and whisper it: they have been told to use the Tube, almost exactly like everyone else who wants to go to the Games.

The deprivation must be almost unthinkable. And it doesn't end there: even if they are prepared to buy a ticket for a family member to accompany them to an event at which they are supposed to be working – insofar as one can work at, say, a diving event when one isn't even the diver – they can't. Purely because some nasty-minded taxpayer might think that if cabinet ministers are supposed to be schmoozing some VIPs, they might make a bit more of an effort if they hadn't taken their wives to chat to instead.

No wonder these have been described as "hair shirt rules". Being asked to talk to a guest while watching some archery is surely the toughest job of all. One cabinet minister has even suggested that after enduring public transport (a plight which would make any child sewing trainers together in a slum shake its head in mute pity), they might not actually feel like being nice to their official guests.

Oddly, it doesn't seem to have occurred to any of these tragic, put-upon creatures that every single person working at the Olympic site – every cleaner, every burger-flipper, every ticket-checker – will have had to endure precisely the same thing every day of their working lives. Hair shirts, by the standards of a cabinet minister, is regular work for their voters.

Pretty much the defining characteristic of the service industry is that you have to schlep to work, often on hot, overcrowded public transport, and then when you get there, you have to be nice to people. Not just to one person, but to dozens of them, all day, until you clock off. And you don't even get to sit down and watch some fella run the 400 metres while you do it.