Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Empty seats on train become huge political story...

Jeremy Corbyn on a train (Photo: The Independent)
Amazingly, the big political story today is that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's recent stint on the floor of a train was something of a stunt.

Well, there's a surprise! A politician with camera crew, out to document how crowded trains are, exaggerates for effect. That's never been done before...

And yet everyone's jumping about as if this proves how hypocritical Corbyn is. Even Lib Dem Voice is asking whether "train-gate could derail his re-election campaign?"

All this reaction has come about because Virgin Trains issued a statement, in which it refuted Mr Corbyn's version of events.

In fairness, I've been on trains before which look empty but has every empty seat reserved. It's actually interesting what the Virgin statement says (and doesn't). Mr Corbyn eventually found a seat, after filming, "with the help of the onboard crew". What does that mean???

Virgin didn't deny the train was pretty full, or that it was impossible to get an unreserved seat in any carriage but Coach H. Which kind of supports (broadly) what he's saying.

It's bad planning by Jeremy really. I mean, you're pretty much guaranteed crowded trains on certain routes at key times, but London to Newcastle in the late morning isn't really one of them. If I had been Jeremy's advisor, I'd actually have suggested doing different trains on different days (after researching which are the most crowded) and had him talking to commuters and passengers about their frustrations. That might have helped his image and avoided it all becoming about him. After all, it's more easy to believe someone's a "man of the people" if they...erm, actually talk to people rather than if they choose to sit on the floor for 45 minutes.

Oh, and who doesn't think about CCTV in trains? This just underlines how amateurish and ill-thought out the whole thing was.

While inevitably people will find this amusing, it shouldn't detract from the serious points being made about public transport. I hope that doesn't get obscured by all this silliness. On the real issue he's more right than wrong, but unfortunately I expect instead of focusing on the important issues we'll instead have plenty of political pointscoring and personality destruction. It's quite sad that this is what politics has become. We do need to have a sensible discussion on the future of public transport.

Perhaps the real story is how disorganised Labour have made themselves look. As Virgin said (with obvious smugness!): "We'd encourage Jeremy to book ahead next time he travels with us, both to reserve a seat and to ensure he gets our lowest fares, and we look forward to welcoming him onboard again." Ouch! The naivety of the leader and his advisors in believing this would never come out really is (for me) the most surprising thing about the whole saga and raises more questions (to my mind) about fitness for leadership than making a few exaggerations about how "packed" a train is.

There are problems with public transport, though, and they need to be addressed. It's just unfortunate that he's chosen to do it in this way and that he's given others the opportunity to ridicule him rather than focus on the substantive issues.