Virgin Says Jeremy Corbyn Had A Seat On The Train Where He Sat On The Floor
A video showing the Labour leader sitting on the floor of a train went viral last week, but the company has now denied it was overcrowded and released CCTV footage.
Virgin Trains has hit back at a complaint by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that he was forced to sit on the floor of one of its services from London to Newcastle because there were no empty seats.
A video, originally published by The Guardian on 16 August, showed the Labour leader sat on the floor of the train from London to Newcastle, reading Private Eye and drinking coffee. The story quickly went viral as Corbyn supporters applauded his refusal to upgrade to a first class ticket to get a seat.
But on Tuesday, Virgin Trains said that it had "to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case".
In a highly unusual move, the company released CCTV images that it said proved there were plenty of available seats on the train, and that Corbyn walked past them on his way through the train to film the video. It also said that 15 minutes after the filming, Corbyn was shown to a seat by a member of staff.
"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming," the company said.
"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle. Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey."
Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin brand, even pitched in on Twitter.
In the original viral video, shot by another passenger, Corbyn says: “This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed."
He also adds that he wouldn't even consider getting a first class seat instead, explaining: “Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”
The Labour leader was applauded by his supporters, with tweets about the incident going viral.
But Corbyn's team appear to be sticking to the original story. Asked if it was true that the train wasn't full, a spokesperson for Corbyn's campaign told BuzzFeed News: "That's a lie. It was full and he gave his seat up so a woman could sit down. Others were sat in the aisles too!"
Following extensive coverage of what is now being called #traingate, Corbyn's team released a fuller statement:
“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat.
"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.
"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”
This version of events was broadly confirmed by comedian Simon Lukacs, who was also travelling to Edinburgh festival on the "very rammed" train and found himself squeezed into the train with the Labour leader.
He told BuzzFeed News that Corbyn was given a seat after train staff upgraded another family to first class in order to make room for the Labour leader.
"Apparently Virgin moved some people to first class to make way for him," said Lukacs. "From what I heard, the cameraman guy came up and said 'they've upgraded some people to first class so we can have a seat'."
Despite that, Lukacs insists it was almost impossible to find a seat on the service: "I was standing and couldn't find a seat. There was also a large number of people standing in the middle of the train. The train was pretty much chokka. The one that I found was the first seat in about four carriages."
"I stood for most of the journey – I finally got a seat around Newcastle. For most of the journey I was standing.
Lukacs was eventually found a seat but turned down the rare chance to join Corbyn and his team: "I thought it would be embarrassing to sit with him."