It Certainly Is Jeremy! The image of Corbyn sitting on the floor of a railway carriage, alongside the many other passengers unable to find a seat, sends a powerful political message about how strongly he identifies with the frustrations of every citizen forced to depend upon sub-standard public transport. That he so unabashedly links their frustrations with his party’s determination to renationalise the service is taken as proof of Corbyn’s readiness to be guided, not by the demands billionaires, but by the priorities of the long-suffering British people.
RICHARD BRANSON, the billionaire owner of the Virgin Group, paints himself as a progressive, twenty-first century capitalist. With his trademark long hair and beard, and his very public concern for the environment, he has created a brand which suggests to the world, especially its younger inhabitants, that you can be a friend of the planet, make a profit, and have a tremendous amount of fun in the process.
Beneath the hip-billionaire image, however, lurks what can only be described as an old-fashioned, Mr Moneybags loathing of socialism and all its works.
Confronted with a video produced by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign-team, in which the Labour leader is shown sitting on the floor of one of Virgin Trains’ ridiculously overcrowded passenger services, Branson saw red.
Stung by Corbyn’s criticism of Britain’s privatised railway system, and rattled by his plans to renationalise it, Branson released security-camera footage, purportedly showing Corbyn and his crew walking past multiple empty seats, to the media.
Predictably, the conservative British press have had a field day. Corbyn has been painted as a liar and a cheat, and his Blairite opponents in the Labour Party have lost little time putting the boot in.
Unfortunately for Corbyn’s critics, a number of people who were on the same train as the Labour leader have come forward to corroborate his version of events. The apparently empty seats had, according to these witnesses, been “reserved” by passengers placing bags and clothing upon them for their friends – something missed in the Virgin Trains’ video on account of the elevated positioning of its security cameras.
Corbyn’s team has not been unduly fazed by Branson’s tactics. Alluding to a letter released by Virgin Trains, in which an attempt is made to justify its overcrowded services, Sam Tarry, Corbyn’s campaign director, was reassuring. “Some of you might have seen on social media today there’s been a little bit of a spat,” he told an East London Corbyn rally. “Richard Branson has decided he’s very upset about our not particularly radical plans to renationalise our railways, so he’s having a little pop at us […] I’d just say that’s very, very indicative – the establishment is absolutely petrified about what this campaign is about, what this movement is about.”
Corbyn’s rival for the Labour leadership, Owen Smith, was careful to keep his own response light-hearted. “My campaign remains on track.”, he tweeted. “Proud to be genuinely standing up for ordinary people.”
The entire episode epitomises the way in which the British Establishment and its media attack-dogs have sought to deal with the Corbyn threat. Not even Branson was prepared to argue that the privatised railways aren’t an inefficient and unreliable mess. But if the message is irrefutable, the messenger is not. Every opportunity is, therefore, taken to discredit Corbyn as both a human-being and a political leader.
It remains to be seen just how successful Corbyn’s enemies have been in undermining his support among Labour Party members and the broader Labour-voting public. If the tens-of-thousands of Britons who have joined the Labour Party over the past few weeks are any indication (most of them with the express purpose of voting to keep Corbyn at Labour’s helm) one would have to say that the Establishment hasn’t been very successful at all.
The image of Corbyn sitting on the floor of a railway carriage, alongside the many other passengers unable to find a seat, sends a powerful political message about how strongly he identifies with the frustrations of every citizen forced to depend upon sub-standard public transport. That he so unabashedly links their frustrations with his party’s determination to renationalise the service is taken as proof of Corbyn’s readiness to be guided, not by the demands of Tony Blair’s billionaire buddy, Richard Branson, but by the priorities of the long-suffering British people.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 24 August 2016.