UPDATE: a clarification has been posted here.

At the moment we have the bizarre issue of Jeremy Corbyn being filmed sitting on the floor of a Virgin Trains East Coast service and using that as a case for nationalisation.

At the time I thought this wasn't his best idea. All the trains on the East Coast fleet originate from the British Rail days and suddenly nationalising the railway won't make extra seats appear.

However, these pictures don't amount to proof that Corbyn was lying, he may have genuinely struggled to find a seat. I will explain soon why I think this is the case.

But first I would like to draw your attention to Virgin Trains East Coast quietly raising fares next month and also planned changes to off-peak validity which will make travel more expensive for many. I'm still doing research on this, so in the meantime you can read about it in Herald Scotland. Perhaps bringing up stories like the Corbyn incident can help Virgin hide news that affects a lot more people!

It was obviously timed as a targeted attack on Corbyn with even Richard Branson tweeting about it which is odd because even if there were seats on this particular train overcrowding does happen. I often see tweets from people complaining they've paid full fare and have to stand. The fact is you're paying to get to the destination on the ticket and not a seat, although they do offer a seat guarantee giving you a refund if you've booked a seat and for some reason the reservation is not available.

So let's look at the 'evidence' and see if there's any other possible explanation.

First of all the CCTV footage shows Corbyn walking past empty seats in coach H (unreserved on the electric sets). A lot of people don't like this carriage because it's the only carriage in standard that has no power sockets so it's quite feasible he wants to see if there's any better seats available.

The other picture is from coach F that is fully reserved but has a number of empty seats. It's possible that these seats were reserved from a stop along the route or as the train had just departed those that had booked the seats may not have yet moved along the train to get to them.

The article says he walked to the very end of the train before sitting on the floor. If it was just a stunt why didn't he just sit on the floor in the first vestibule he came to? That way he'd get back to his seat much quicker too!

They also state that when he returns to coach H to take a seat he was assisted by Virgin Trains East Coast staff members. Surely if this was just a stunt he wouldn't have got the staff involved as that would have drawn attention to the stunt.

So not everything adds up. If he walked to the end of the train and the train wasn't packed the member of staff wouldn't have had to walk him all the way back to the other end of standard class. If it turned out those reserved seats were not occupied then the member of staff would suggest he sat there as that would have been closer.

So with the evidence we have it's quite possible he walked the length of the train looking for an unreserved seat with a socket, couldn't find any, saw others standing around and thought it was highly likely someone else would have grabbed the seats in coach H and so asked a member of staff when they appeared if there was any other seats available.

So we don't know with the evidence presented whether Corbyn was lying or not, but Virgin are masters of spin and so you should never take what they say at face value.

Some key points:

  • Virgin Trains East Coast services have 6 standard class carriages. Coach H is at one end of standard, as he asked for staff assistance at the other end of the train this implies that the rest of the train must have been full otherwise they would have seated him somewhere nearer to where he was at that time.
  • As there's only photos from two carriages (coach H and coach F full of reservation coupons) we don't know how busy the rest of the train was, there may have been others standing giving the impression seats were all taken.

I'm extremely disappointed that Virgin Trains East Coast would get involved with politics, all they needed to do was release a statement saying something like "Virgin Trains East Coast have spoken to the guard on the train and there were seats available, we managed to find him a seat and so he was able to relax for most of his journey. When our new Azuma trains are launched there will be additional seating which reduces the chance of overcrowding." 

So who's lying? As I show here we don't have the evidence to tell, but I am very suspicious that Virgin have only released limited evidence. As they decided to release CCTV footage it would have been simple enough for them to show the whole train was not packed in standard class.

Should they have released CCTV footage? No I don't think they should have done. The CCTV is there to help prevent crime not a political tool. A verbal statement would have been sufficient.


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