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.
I think Mr Corbyn has "broken through". For some time now the blatantly over the top attacks and criticisms have been backfiring , and enhancing his popularity , at least among a very large section of UK population.
Just what proportion of voters that is, is yet to be seen , but the next UK election will be about voting for or against Jeremy Corbyn and his philosophies.
Cheers David J S
Here's some (2012 -2015) UK Poll data I've collected on the Public Ownership of Railways Question:
(Includes breakdowns by Party Support)
GfK NOP (2012)
UK Rail returned to Public Ownership
Renationalising the Railways
(Support: Lab voters 79%, Ukip 73%, Lib Dem 64%, Tory 52%)
Renationalising the Railways
(Support: Lab 78%, Ukip 70%, Lib Dem 60%, Tory 42%)
Nationalisation of Britain's Railways
(Support: Lab 73%, Ukip 67%, Lib Dem 65%, Tory 48%)
Renationalise Rail Transport
(Support: Lab 63%, Green 85%, SNP 65%, Ukip 61%, Lib Dem 64%, Tory 51%)
Renationalise Rail Transport by taking the franchises back into public ownership when they come up for renewal
(Support: Lab 71%, Green 93%, SNP 71%, Ukip 69%, Lib Dem 72%, Tory 60%)
YouGov (March 2015)
Should Railways be Nationalised and run in the public sector, Privatised and run by private companies or does it not matter as long as standard of service maintained (pragmatic)
Nationalise/Public Sector 52%
Privatise/Private Sector 14%
(Nationalise/Public Sector: Lab 69%, Ukip 60%, Lib Dem 58%, Tory 34%)
Survation (Aug 2015)
Taking Train lines back into Public Ownership when their franchises expire
(Support: Lab 78%, Ukip 70%, Lib Dem 66%, Tory 48%, Other Party 79%,
Undecided about Party Support 65%)
Notice that there's even a significant reservoir of Tory support for re-Nationalisation.
One of the big positives of Brexit - Britain will actually be able to nationalise the railways at all.
Well done Jeremy Corbyn, despite all the dire predictions from the careerists British Labour caucus I predict that (should he retain the leadership) he will do very well against Theresa Mays and probably cause major directional changes in British politics.
He is a committed left wing Labourite, we do not have any in our Labour party parliamentarians.
Jeremy has the 'Trump' factor but he has brains, experience and even-ness to complement.
I am still enjoying the politics of America and Britain through the eyes of the internet and articles such as yours are salt and pepper to the feast.
Jeremy Corbyn’s movement has definitely got some traction going by the attacks on him, it would be pleasing to see the local NZ Labour Party support him too
Jeremy Corbyn has now come out and admitted that there were seats, but he wanted to find two together so he could sit with his wife. That puts a different complexion on things and makes a mockery of his video claims.
The concept of reserved seats on trains seems peculiar. I've never heard of such a thing - certainly unknown in this country. Can anyone explain how it works, based on their travel experience in the UK? Does everyone simultaneously go to the toilet? Or is there a meal car, at which they all simultaneously eat?
I suspect Corbyn's protest will be effective if it reflects common experience; if plenty of people do have to sit on the floor normally, and if that didn't happen before privatisation. Those polls stats are a consistent vote of no confidence in privatised rail. Symbolic protests can be powerful when they reflect reality.
When we used to travel to and from Wellington on the overnight express or limited, all seats were booked. Used to have a little tag above each seat showing that the seat was booked between stations. (eg. Pukekohe to Taumaranui or Auckland to Wellington) Your ticket would show which carriage and seat allocation.
Used to be able to hire pillows and get tea in big solid railway mugs. The mugs would be collected with great noise and gusto by a conductor dragging a wooden crate. Usually when you just managed to get back to sleep after the stop at Taumaranui.
Ahhh, those were the days.
I think Corbyn staged a photo opportunity. Is he so disorganised he (or a member of staff) not book ahead two seats for him and the missus?
Looks pretty easy to me.
"makes a mockery of his video claims."
It was a stunt. It doesn't have to be absolutely true, just reflect people's experiences on the trains. Judging by some of the comments on the Guardian it certainly does.
There seems to be some lack of common public culture amongst some commenters.
Putting a jacket on a seat is an indication that probably that seat has been taken but that the occupier is away temporarily, using the toilet,getting water, food etc.
The correct etiquette is to ask the person on the closest seat if that seat is taken, and they may either reply yes because they know this to be true, or lie because they hope to keep a spare seat beside them, or they are expecting their companion to come soon and join them.
The boor might just ignore this and sit down without enquiry or demand the right to an empty seat, so there!
Thanks Gerrit, that does trigger some rather dim memories from my oscillations between Auckland University & family home in Wanganui on the old clickety-clack, & getting a pie at Taumaranui. But unless the train was in a station people rarely left their seats, so the problem Corbyn encountered must be due to some other factor - unless the media exaggerated the number of empty/taken seats he had to walk past... "What? The British media inventing stories?? Surely not!"
Of course British Rail was sooooo efficient before it was privatised!
"Of course British Rail was sooooo efficient before it was privatised!"
Perhaps not, but the conservative myth is that privatisation makes it much more efficient. And if you care to do some research about it, it couldn't be further from the truth. Not to mention that public transport needs to be effective rather than efficient. I mean it's quite efficient to leave people standing at the station because there aren't enough trains, but not very effective if we agree that the role of public transport is to get the public from one place to another.
Not to mention that the typical Conservative attitude towards this sort of thing is to starve it of funds, claim it doesn't work, and then privatise it. After which, it's just as inefficient/ineffective, but there's a lot less spent on maintenance and upgrading.
"The Hatfield crash led to the departure of Railtrack's chief executive, Gerald Corbett, who had been honest enough to admit: ‘There is a tension between shareholder interests and public service obligations. The only way we can make profits is by not doing the things we should do to make the railways better."
And according to what I've read, privatise rail gets more by way of government subsidies than the old government rail did.
I think GS when talking about efficiency and the Brit trains, that you meant that it is efficient to have full trains, even if that means that there will be excess passengers left standing on the platform. They are a sort of collateral damage in the thrust to make the most profit from investment in the transport.
To privatise, or run government business to profit-first rules, is bound to eventually result in a service that is careless of its passengers. This is the myth of government services, which is common. And it can be true of governnment, and determined effort is needed to keep quality of service up to standard at a reasonable price for the citizens taxes.
In the back of my Baumol and Blinder Economics textbook (which I have hung onto as explaining the 'discipline' well) there is a discussion on dissenting opinions which quotes J.K.Galbraith. It offers a relevant insight into the workings of public/private service under Obsession with Efficiency rather than Equality.
[Radical economists] are quite right to complain that:
The preponderant majority of economic analysis and research is concerned with efficiency, not with equality.
(And further on)...
Radicals add one further element to Galbraith's indictment. In addition to ruining the quality of the environment, capitalist production ruins human beings.
I'm also dipping into old textbooks, about government mainly. Efficiency means ripping through as much work as possible, even if it means some people are left behind. It is efficient to have too few trains on the line, because what you are doing is making money, not transporting people. Effectiveness means to some extent forgetting about doing things in the least amount of time with the least possible resources, and doing things correctly to get the outcomes you are supposed to be about.
One example from a NZ conservative government, and both sides of the House have done this I believe.
It is efficient NOT to tell beneficiaries about what they are actually entitled to, and to wait until they ask. And it's now quite dangerous I understand for government servants not to do this. But assuming that the benefit system is meant to help people get on with their lives, you're not getting the outcome that you are supposed to. Many people seem to forget that businesses should emphasise efficiency perhaps, but governments should emphasise effectiveness (in my humble opinion at least – but I'm not alone in this).
That's why transport systems should be run by governments, because their job should not be to make money, but to get people from point A to point B – so they can contribute to the economy. Another thing conservatives seem to forget.
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