Who you gonna support: Virgin or the Daily Mail?

THERE’S a spat between Virgin Trains and the Daily Mail; do you take sides or hurry on, leaving them to their ‘ferrets in a sack’ moment?

The train company has stopped selling the newspaper on its services as it is “not compatible” with its brand or beliefs. According to a leaked memo, Virgin Trains said its employees had raised concerns “about the Mail’s editorial position on issues such as immigration, LGBT rights and unemployment”.

Before stepping further along this malodorous platform, it is worth taking on board the knowledge that Virgin Trains runs the West Coast mainline in a joint venture with Stagecoach. This is a different joint venture to Virgin Trains East Coast, which is also a collaboration with Stagecoach.

Knowledge of that complication will come in handy in a moment.

Here’s the problem: if you dislike the Mail but don’t exactly love Virgin, who gets your sympathies here?

This ban is just a pious virtue-signal from Virgin, a spot of student-style politics – and we’ll arrive at that noisy station soon – from a massive capitalist corporation trying to pretend it still has ‘alternative’ values.

Sir Richard Branson is the face of the many offshoots that carry his name, and the ghost of his hippie past still hangs around him, all these monied years later, like the whiff of a half-remembered joss-stick.

It is customary at such moments for the Daily Mail top bananas to fulminate about free speech – even though the Mail only ever allows views that fit its political template. The only sort of free speech in that newspaper is the sort that sticks rigidly to the Mail’s preordained view of the world.

Having said that, there is some truth in a spokesperson for the newspaper telling the Guardian that it was “disgraceful” that this ban should come at a time of ever-rising rail fares and “after the taxpayer was forced to bail out Virgin’s East Coast mainline franchise”.

True, but here lies a further knotted irony.

The government is in effect bailing out Virgin and Stagecoach by letting them quit the franchise early, at a possible cost to taxpayers of billions – and this suggests strongly that the capitalism the Mail proudly supports cannot run railways without help from the nannying old state.

So, in effect, Virgin and the Mail are on the same side of the fence, while also pretending to have their differences. If the Mail was really against rail privatisation, it would join Jeremy Corbyn’s call for the railways to be handed back to the state; and that is never going to happen.

This Virgin-Mail affair is another of those stories about nothing much that occupy so much time nowadays. You may have heard about Toby Young stepping down from his position on the government’s new Office for Students board, after the discovery of old tweets in which he said assorted vile things.

I don’t have the time or inclination to think too long about this unappealing self-styled provocateur (a man of the right in the mould of columnist politicians such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove).

But what is this body that Young will now no longer join? Its role in part lies in keeping an eye on student politics, and no-platforming in particular – a matter that much obsesses middle-aged journalists on the Mail, Telegraph and the Sun, among over-heated others.

A government body set up, in other words, to satisfy the very newspapers that helped to spin this matter out of all proportion in the first place.

No-platforming – preventing those with unfashionable views from speaking on campuses – is certainly unattractive; but it’s hardly such a massive problem that the government needs to waste money on setting up a quango of middle-aged snoopers.

Just leave the students to their politics; they’ll grow out of it soon enough.

But back to train-spotting: as Virgin only owns 10% of the East Coast franchise, how comes its name is splashed over 100% of everything?

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