#TrainGate | Corbyn vs Branson why it is bigger than it appears

  • By Heyami Alghatta


The Bigger Picture


What is #TrainGate?

On the 11th August 2016, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was filmed walking through several fully reserved or occupied carriages before sitting on the floor on a Virgin Trains East Coast service to Newcastle because the train was “ram-packed”. At the time, Corbyn said:

“Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

On the 23rd of  August 2016, Virgin Trains released what it claimed to be CCTV footage from the same journey in which they said Corbyn and his team could be seen walking past some apparently empty seats in Coach H, before filming the video and later returning to Coach H to sit for the rest of the journey.

Corbyn commented about the incident:

“Yes, I did walk through the train. Yes, I did look for two empty seats together so I could sit down with my wife, to talk to her. That wasn’t possible so I went to the end of the train.” adding: “after 42 minutes, I went back through the train to the seats that had been allocated”

Twitter saw a large public demonstration of support for Corbyn with fellow passengers from the journey jumping to Corbyn’s defence. Many twitter users posted photographs of the same journey Corbyn took with other passengers sitting on the floor. Some showed that the only free seats were either reserved, in first class or single seats meaning that couples or families couple not sit together. Twitter users made it clear that this was not a unique occurrence and many of the very costly services did not have adequate seating.

Legal Repercussions for Virgin Trains

The Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed that it is looking into the incident on data protection grounds. A spokesperson for the ICO commented:

“We are aware of the publication of CCTV images of Jeremy Corbyn and are making enquiries. All organisations have an obligation to comply with the Data Protection Act and must have legitimate grounds for processing the personal data they hold. Where there’s a suggestion that this hasn’t happened, the ICO has the power to investigate and can take enforcement action if necessary.”

The Bigger Picture

Many have been asking why the media have given so much attention to an issue that seems less significant than other issues such as the Conservatives gaff over NHS safety concerns or the tragic loss of life following an earthquake in Italy.

The reason is simple, this is not simply about a breach of the Data Protection Act. Nor is it a story about a businessman challenging a politician. This is about the possible re-nationalisation of the British rain networks.

Corbyn had previously made an argument for the initiation of rail re-nationalisation. London already benefits from a vastly superior public transport system thanks to the nationalisation of it’s public infrastructure in the form of TFL.

Southern Rail, a privatised branch of the rail network in South London sees strikes, protests, delays, cancellations and incomprehensible ticket costs. Many commuters have complained about the unreliability of Southern Rail. One passenger explained how she on occasion has not made it home from work forced into either a hotel or having to sleep at the train station. Another passenger explains how it is more often that not that he does not make it home before his children’s bedtimes due to cancellations and delays.

The public opinion certainly seems set in stone favouring the re-nationalisation of all public transport. Especially within the capital where busses and tubes are already a public service.

The swing from privatisation to nationalisation is seen by many however as the spark to ignite the fire moving politics from the right, the Blairite and the Tory dominated political zeitgeist to the socially empathetic, to the left and a more socialist model of British politics. It captures the Labour Party’s internal struggle and divides in one clear and very public dispute.