Brand Corbyn gets derailed by Richard Branson and Virgin Trains
Leader known for his principles and authenticity is accused of telling porkies for a PR stunt.
For a leader whose biggest selling point is that he is unspun and authentic, is there any worse brand damage than an accusation of PR skulduggery backed up by CCTV footage?
One week after he was filmed sitting on the floor of a packed train, Jeremy Corbyn is about to find out.
The Labour leader was heartily applauded by supporters following his exploits last week.
“You would never see any other politician be so humble and let themselves be amongst the public,” said one Twitter user after footage emerged of Corbyn settling down on the floor for his journey up north.
But now Virgin Trains has questioned the Labour leader’s suggestion that he was sitting on the floor because the service was "completely ram-packed".
In an extraordinary move which suggests that Virgin Trains are not expecting to have to deal with a Corbyn-led government any time soon, the firm put out a statement insisting that seats were available on the train to Gateshead. It also published four photos of the Labour leader either sitting down or walking past empty seats.
“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,” said the statement.
“There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on.”
The company statement was quickly followed by a tweet from Virgin Group boss Richard Branson.
Corbyn’s campaign team did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but leadership rival Owen Smith was quick to tweet that his own campaign “remains on track”.
The incident may not change the course of the Labour leadership election, but it could yet cause significant damage to the Labour leader’s image if it resonates with voters and eats into his key attributes.
A recent poll by ComRes found that only 13 per cent of people think that Corbyn is a strong leader. But 42 per cent think he understands ordinary people and 43 per cent think he is principled.
The incident comes ten years after another party leader saw his brand suffer when embarrassing photos emerged and stuck in the public mind.
Back in 2006, David Cameron was attacked over his green agenda when it transpired that he cycled to work - but then had his car follow with his briefcase.
Picture by: Press Association Images