Nick Clegg has found a way of reducing our budget deficit and paying off our National Debt as fast as we can. What a genius! He was on TV today advocating a means test for the pensioner bus pass.
Until 2006, pensioners only got free bus travel within their local authority area. They could use buses free to go shopping or to their local library or even to visit their MP's surgery and interrogate him or her about how they were voting in parliament. It seemed a reasonable reward for people who had worked and paid tax all their lives. Then the Blair government decided it could afford to be generous, or maybe just buy votes, by extending this to unlimited free travel on all buses anywhere in the country. At first they could use coaches free too. So Granny and Grandpa could now trek across the country to visit their grandchildren instead of staying at home. They could go up to London and shop in Oxford Street then go home to Yorkshire all by bus. Gordon Brown thought the scheme would cost the government £250 million per year but in fact like most Labour ideas it cost far more. Very soon the costs reached £1 billion and by 2009 the free coach travel had to be withdrawn.
In the last election, David Cameron promised that he would not stoop to such ignoble levels as to begrudge a pensioner their bus-pass. He talked as if it was an immemorial right to have free travel all over the country. But Clegg sees it differently. He objects to all those filthy rich pensioners who are getting bus-passes. He says he can save the treasury a lot of money by cutting back on the free travel given to multi-millionaires. "Why should Lord Sugar have a free bus pass?" is his leftie slogan now.
Trouble is that Clegg (who has probably never been on a bus in his life) doesn't seem to know how the system works. The bus companies are only compensated by their local authority for each journey that a pass-holder actually makes. When did anyone last see Lord Sugar using a bus? How many multi-millionaires who can afford cars and maybe chauffeurs to drive them, would go and stand at a bus stop braving the rain, the snow and the germs you pick up from other people? How many pensioners are multi-millionaires anyway? Most of those I know, even those with a bit of money, are worried about having to sell their homes to pay for nursing care when they need it. I suspect that Clegg's rich pensioners are very few and far between, and most of them never go on buses. So in fact his money-saving brainwave will bring almost no savings to the Treasury.
Clegg is a posh boy from a sheltered background and considering that he went to Westminster, it was a poor show only getting into Robinson College, Cambridge. I mean, Robinson, seriously, I ask you? The top Cambridge colleges have names like Pembroke, Queen's and Christ's, not Robinson. Anyway he is now so well-heeled with his EU jobs and EU pensions clocking up that when he retires, he will be able to afford to go everywhere by private helicopter, never mind cars and buses.
This reminds me of a joke about a posh boy who wrote home to his father, an Arab sheikh, from university: "Oxford is wonderful and I love it here, but I feel a bit embarrassed arriving everywhere in my Lamborghini when all the other students, and even the lecturers, travel by train." The reply was, "My dear son, I have transferred $20 million into your account, buy yourself a train."