Inevitably dubbed ‘traingate’, it concerns a piece of crass political spin orchestrated by Jeremy Corbyn’s team with such spectacular incompetence that it blew up in their faces and provided the rest of us with no end of laughs.
Last week Corbyn was filmed by his supporters slumped on the floor of a carriage of a London to Newcastle train complaining he couldn’t get a seat because it was “ram packed”.
The Labour leader looked into the camera and told the viewer with grim seriousness that this illustrated why Britain’s railways had to be renationalised.
So far so good. The video, released to the Guardian newspaper, garnered many favourable headlines and showed Corbyn as a real man of the people subject to the same privations on public transport as we lesser mortals.
It was reported that he even declined a train guard’s offer to upgrade him to first class because it was against his principles. What an absolute working class hero!
But within a few days the whole narrative began to unravel. The train operator, Virgin Trains, pointed out there were plenty of seats available on the service and that there was absolutely no reason for Corbyn to sit on the floor.
Even worse for the Corbynistas, the company released incontrovertible evidence in the form of video footage to prove the point. It showed Corbyn walking past empty seats on his way to sit on the floor to film his video.
What followed will go down in the spin-doctors’ instruction manual as a classic example of how not to handle a media crisis. Lesson one; don’t keep changing your story every 30 minutes.
First Corbyn’s team insisted the train was completely full, then after Virgin’s video came to light they admitted there were spare seats but they were all reserved.
But as anyone who has ever travelled on a train would know, just because a seat is reserved for part of the journey doesn’t mean it is entirely unavailable. For example if the seat is reserved between York and Newcastle, you are perfectly entitled to sit in it between London and York.
Even this flimsy excuse was blown out of the water by a further train video showing Corbyn walking past empty, unreserved seats.
Oh dear! From then on Corbyn’s spin operation went into complete meltdown. One spokesperson even went so far as to suggest that the seats may have been occupied by dozens of very small, unaccompanied children who didn’t show up on the video.
Eventually, Corbyn retreated to a last line of defence – yes there were empty, unreserved seats available, but he couldn’t find two together so he could sit with his travelling companion.
The problem with this latest story is that it undermines the whole point of the stunt and proves Virgin entirely correct when they said there was no reason for Corbyn to sit on the floor. Seats were available and he was clearly doing so out of choice, not out of necessity.
Of course in the wider scheme of things this is all inconsequential – a silly story from the dog days of August given prominence because there is little else about. There are or course far more important things to worry about.
But it is significant in two ways. First, it shows a level of ineptitude on Corbyn’s team that is simply laughable. Is there no one on the campaign capable of booking a train seat? Did they not realise that trains carry on-board cameras that would inevitably expose their stunt for what it was?
Can you imagine for an instant these people running the country?
Second, it undermines what marketing folk would call Corbyn’s ‘unique selling point’ – his authenticity.
According to this argument yes, he may be inexperienced, a dull speaker and entirely unelectable – but he is a straightforward, unvarnished, honest man of the people and what you see is what you get.
What ‘traingate’ demonstrates is that far from being unique, Corbyn is as devious and calculating as any other two-bob politician.
He is perfectly prepared to indulge in the dark arts of political spin – he just isn’t very good at it.