TWO stories bob about in the political pond today. Both are silly but only one in a good way.
First up is the Jeremy Corbyn train seat row, tediously also known as ‘traingate’. Last week, the Labour leader caught a train to Newcastle and, being unable to find a seat, squatted on the floor. He sat there in solidarity with other passengers and had a mumble-grumble about how this incident showed why the railways should be nationalised. His polite but brittle sit-down protest was recorded and a film clip released.
Until yesterday this was a small story, a ripple or two in the teacup. Then the whole storm rattled the china when Virgin released CTTV footage appearing to suggest that Mr Corbyn walked past empty seats before sitting on the floor.
Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Trains founder, backed the release of this footage, in which the company said it took issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn “wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case”. The Labour leader stood by his description of the train journey, saying that the empty seats displayed reservation tickets, adding that he was given a seat when another family was upgraded to first class.
Mr Corbyn reportedly declined a first-class upgrade for himself, perhaps in a Citizen Smith-style power to the people moment. And now he has ended up looking silly; or if you are Mr Corbyn and his loyal band of supporters, the newspapers have inflicted further inky calumny on their man.
So who is the winner in this much-amplified small squabble? Mr Corbyn looks shabby because his stunt was derailed by events; and Virgin looks shabby because it released this footage a week later in a bout of petulant foot-stamping. Mr Corbyn looks ridiculous because he indulged in a spot of incompetent spin; and Sir Richard Branson looks ridiculous because, well, he just is.
In Mr Corbyn’s favour, some of his observations about overcrowding and how our railways are run are fair enough, especially on a line which has seen two private companies fail to date. Is Virgin now going to struggle as well? It’s a reasonable question to print on your ticket.
Other factors work less well for Mr Corbyn. For a man who leads a political party, he seems naïve about train travel. Book ahead and it’s cheaper. You can often sit in ticketed seats, at least for a while. And being upgraded to first class is fairly normal when the train is overcrowded, and not a calculated insult to your socialist values or whatever.
Having said all that, it is difficult to stand up for Virgin Trains or for the bizarre way we run our railways: just how much public money do these private companies absorb? But Corbyn has certainly been put in a Branson pickle.
The veteran travel journalist Simon Calder, of the Independent, this morning accuses the Labour leader of boarding the Hogwash Express. How handy is that. For my second silly story concerns an American study which finds that people who have read the Harry Potter books are less likely to support Donald Trump – or Trumpdemort, as he is rather splendidly being dubbed.
The study published in PS: Political Science and Politics bears the playful title Harry Potter And The Deathly Donald.
Professor Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania polled a representative sample of 1,142 Americans in 2014 and again this year. By asking about their Harry Potter consumption, she found that each Potter book read lowered her respondents’ feelings about Trump by two or three points.
JK Rowling was naturally thrilled, tweeting that the news had made her day.
As far as I can tell, no study has yet been undertaken into whether or not having read Thomas the Tank Engine books makes readers more or less sympathetic towards Jeremy Corbyn.