#Traingate Demystified

Collusion, corruption and misrepresentation. Criticise the current Labour leadership and you are sure to be accused of all three in quick succession.

Take Nick Watkins’ recent piece for the Boomerang Press. Although he professes to be relatively agnostic about Jeremy Corbyn, the article is full of indications that he is not in any real doubt. The tell-tale sign is his inability to detect any trace of sincerity or justification in the attacks on the Labour leader in the recent #TrainGate controversy. Instead, Watkins calls out an alliance of ‘corporate and political interests’ ranged against Corbyn, shadowy forces that are able to exert influence over even the ‘supposedly unbiased’ BBC. In the minds of true believers, the reporting of any story that contradicts their worldview is always a sign of malice. The same was evident in the Scottish and European referendums: news outlets couldn’t report the criticisms of opponents without themselves being complicit in a sinister conspiracy. Here, the chief suspects are Richard Branson and the Barclay brothers, whose vested interests necessitate the destruction of Corbyn’s leadership, and who have the power to ensure that other mainstream news organisations fail to give the Labour leader a fair hearing.

Such a wide-ranging analysis of #TrainGate is undermined by one problem: there is a much simpler explanation available. Jeremy Corbyn got it wrong. His team publicised a video in which he claimed that his train was ‘ram-packed’, when it wasn’t. The discovery of such an error by any contemporary politician would have been a story, and no news agency of any standing would have refused to report it. Watkins attempts to draw a contrast with ‘how quickly we [were] told to forget’ about the Chilcot Report, which will come as a surprise to anyone who followed the news before and after the report’s publication. Although we should all be concerned by the cynicism engendered by negative coverage of politics, there is no escaping the fact that the humbling of politicians of any stripe is always news, whether or not we happen to agree with them.

However, as the article suggests, this apparently superficial story does reveal a deeper truth. Why did Richard Branson decide to publish the CCTV footage that exposed the discrepancy between Corbyn’s claim and the reality? He must have known that Corbyn’s supporters would demand retaliation: accusing him of forgery, damning him for tax avoidance and calling for his knighthood to be revoked. Surely, if there was any possibility that Corbyn could become Prime Minister, Branson would not have released the footage. To do so would have exposed his ‘corporate interests’ to an unacceptable level of risk.

But, of course, there was no risk. Before #TrainGate, Corbyn was one of the most unpopular opposition leaders on record. And so he remains. It is a testament to the dedication of his supporters that they continue to find complicated explanations for his difficulties, when perfectly simple ones will suffice.


Joe Skeaping is Head of History at Brighton College. For more of Joe's work, check out http://abrazenworld.blogspot.co.uk/

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