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Why Traingate matters

Kevin Schofield | PoliticsHome

3 min read Partner content

To even his most hardened critics, it did seem pretty impressive.

Unable to find a seat on a crowded train, we were led to believe that Jeremy Corbyn had sat on the floor for the three-hour journey from London to Newcastle.

There he was, cross-legged in the vestibule, telling the documentary-maker following him around that the 11am Virgin Trains service was "ram-packed" and a powerful argument for rail renationalisation.

What's more, he was sure to point out that he had turned down the offer of a first class upgrade for fear of wasting taxpayers' cash.

To his legions of fans, it was yet more proof that Jeremy was different from other politicians. How many other MPs, let alone party leaders, would sit on the floor of a train alongside hoi polloi just to make a political point?

Alas, the illusion was shattered a week later when Virgin Trains administered a hit job which would have made Vito Corleone proud.

The Telegraph published CCTV pictures from the train in question which appeared to show Mr Corbyn and his aides walking past rows of empty, unreserved seats after boarding the train.

Even more damagingly, later footage showed the Labour leader actually taking a seat less than an hour into his journey.

Blind-sided by the Virgin fightback, Mr Corbyn's media team then went into something of a meltdown.

Their first response was outright denial.



That line was then finessed and a few hours later the Jeremy For Labour campaign released a statement saying Mr Corbyn had initially been "unable to find unreserved seats" so had sat on the floor with other passengers instead. Train staff then upgraded a family to standard class, thereby providing Team Corbyn with seats.

Which may have just about killed the story had Mr Corbyn himself not admitted yesterday that he had in fact been hoping to get two seats, so he could sit behind his wife.

That explanation, incidentally, had been dismissed as "nonsense" by aides the day before.

Moments later, the line changed again, with the Labour leader admitting he had been unable to find seats which would allow "all of us" (ie his entire entourage) to sit together.

Why does all this matter? Well, for a party leader whose entire schtick has been founded on "straight-talking, honest politics", getting caught being less than straight with the public is pretty far from ideal. 

And if you are a Labour supporter and you think the Tories won't return to this episode time and again in the run-up to the election, then I've some tartan paint you might like to buy.

Any hopes Team Corbyn had that ordinary voters will dismiss traingate as a piece of Westminster froth will have been dispelled by the YouGov poll out this morning which demonstrated that by quite a large margin, the public believe Virgin Trains rather than Jeremy.



Still, at least there were no hard feelings for the Labour leader, who clambered aboard another Virgin service this morning en route to Glasgow for tonight's hustings with Owen Smith. He even managed to get a seat.



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