After posting my previous blog post about Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) posting CCTV footage of Jeremy Corbyn walking past empty seats I have been accused of being a Corbynite. I'd like to now further clarify my position.
My (^DH) personal approach is to be as honest as possible (everyone has their own biases) when commenting on Virgin Trains East Coast. I have always posted when I think they've done well but will also be harsh when I think they've made mistakes. I enjoy travelling on the East Coast and would rather VTEC succeed than fail.
I'm also happy to correct people if they blame VTEC for things that were introduced by East Coast or another previous operator. The biggest example is the cut back first class service on a weekend. The current weekend service style dates back to 2011.
My personal view is that both privatisation and nationalisation can work well if done right. East Coast was an example of nationalisation done well and shows with the right team in place could do a decent job and out-innovate the private operators with things like a very attractive rewards scheme. On the other hand private operator GNER was also excellent until they messed up with their 2005 franchise bid.
So back to Corbyn, I always like to question motives. You don't normally get Richard Branson personally intervening (he was quick to tweet out a link to the press release) for a complaint about being unable to find a seat. He's also said it's important businesses don't get involved in party politics. You certainly wouldn't find VTEC digging through CCTV to disprove these allegations for such a complaint.
So I looked at the evidence and decided what VTEC offered was not sufficient proof that Corbyn was deliberately lying. However that's not to say he isn't lying, what I said was the evidence was inconclusive. Outside of The Guardian the original Corbyn video didn't get much press and so I doubt it caused any damage to the Virgin brand or VTEC sales.
I also believe Jeremy Corbyn was wrong to post the video in the first place. Nationalising the rail networks won't suddenly make the trains longer and the government can put in the franchise agreements if they need longer trains (I seem to recall it was the Department for Transport that stopped Virgin Trains West Coast from lengthening all their Pendolinos to 11 carriages).
So both sides were wrong in their actions in my eyes. But as I care about the service on the East Coast it is their actions I pulled up.
So what was the motivation for VTEC to post this footage? I can't imagine they'd go to these lengths for many people, even if they were famous. I see only two possibilities either they were trying to distract from the September fare rise that has not been widely reported or Virgin thinks it's beneficial to derail the Corbyn leadership campaign. The CCTV footage was published in the week the Labour Party are sending out voting papers to their members so it's a good timing to influence decisions.
The point is a lot of the media is happy to believe what VTEC says without questioning it. The media should have been asking for pictures from the other carriages and also spoken to the staff on-board for their view of the events. If The Guardian had been on the ball they could have spoken to the on-board team before they even released the article (as the crews tend to work the same services they wouldn't be difficult to find).
When someone says something you need to think what their bias may be. The press often take Virgin press releases as fact, we like to at least question them.
Some people have also came up with other possible motives for Branson to get involved which don't involve party politics or even train services but instead other Virgin companies. The BBC suggests it might have been to take attention away from British Airways who were getting publicity for bringing the Rio2016 athletes home and as many know there's been a long standing rivalry between BA and Virgin Atlantic. Someone on Twitter has said Virgin Care has recently won another NHS contract which they may not want to draw attention to (as I'm not familiar with the NHS I've not verified this claim).