It’s not unusual in politics for what would in abstract seem a sensible policy to become hugely unpopular when it hits Westminster. Most Conservative MPs would agree, in principle, that placing the burden of the cost of rail travel on the shoulders of those who actually travel by train is far more sensible than the money coming from all taxpayers, regardless of whether they use the rail network, and regardless of whether they live in commuter-land or not.
But it was also inevitable that this week’s huge price rise would be very difficult for MPs to sell to their constituents when the cost of living is rising across the board. Today’s story in The Observer quoting MPs who want the government to change course on this matter does feature a fair number of commuter belt constituencies. But those constituencies are not just those ringing London: Philip Davies is one of those uttering threats, reminding the government that it ‘should be on the side of the people – not hitting them where it hurts most’. His constituency is outside Bradford.
This would be a useful U-turn for ministers to make as, with the decision to defer the fuel duty rise at the end of June, they can argue that they have listened to the country. Backbench MPs can go back to their constituencies and argue that they do have influence over the government on the matters that real people care about – something it might not be a bad thing to remind voters of following this summer’s wrangling over constitutional reform.