British politics this week was rocked by an almighty clash between Jeremy Corbyn and the multi-millionaire ‘entrepreneur’, Richard Branson. Branson's attacks on the Labour leader mark yet another desperate attempt by the Establishment to smear and slander Corbyn. But, as with all these other attempts, Corbyn's opponents have only served to highlight their own privileges and hypocrisy.
The origins of Branson's intervention derive from a recently released video on The Guardian website, in which Corbyn is sitting on the floor of a Virgin Trains service from London to Newcastle. In the video, Corbyn states that “this [overcrowded trains] is a problem which many passengers face every day”, before making the case for public ownership of the railways.
In response, Virgin and Branson tweeted snapshots of CCTV footage, showing Corbyn walking past unoccupied seats, claiming that the video was nothing more than a publicity stunt. The stage was set for “Traingate”, and with it a deluge of rail-based puns.
Owen Smith, Corbyn's challenger for Labour Party leader, was quick to try and make hay while the sun shone, tweeting, “My campaign remains on track. Proud to be genuinely standing up for ordinary people.” On track perhaps, but running out of steam all the same.
Not a word from our radically "normal" candidate about his steadfast commitment for the public ownership of the railways. But, then again, this issue is surely of secondary importance compared to the struggle against people who refuse to sit in reserved but unoccupied seats on trains - those people are the worst right? Rest assured, our Owen sits wherever he likes. Trains, buses, benches - he just turns up, sits down and gets on with it. Why? Because he’s just an ordinary bloke like you and me. Legend.
Unfortunately for Branson, Smith, and the army of Blairite staffers who will gratefully seize on any opportunity for some industrial-scale muck spreading, other passengers - Smith’s “ordinary people” - have spoken up in defence of the Labour leader. One fellow passenger, Ellen, said that she too was unable to find a seat. Another, Keren, told a similar tale.
This isn’t all that surprising. As Corbyn explained, passengers on British trains regularly find themselves without seats, having paid extortionate fares for the privilege - the writer of this article can attest to that. It is to be expected that Branson would want to obscure this fact, but that Smith would rather ignore it for the sake of cheap point scoring suggests that his dedication to the cause of British passengers is more than a little suspect.
For an end to profiteering
More importantly however, all the furore over this non-story raises the question of why Branson would want to draw further attention to it in the first place. Perhaps it could have something to do with the fact that the Virgin Group would likely lose a great deal of profits if Corbyn were to actually carry through his plan of renationalising the railways and ending profiteering by people like Branson.
It is also of interest that the timing of this “row” coincided with Corbyn’s announcement of his “NHS blueprint”. In a speech given today in London, Corbyn made the following commitment:
"The Labour government I lead will ensure that money goes to patients not contractors, and that our NHS is given the resources to provide a top quality service as part of a programme to rebuild and transform Britain so that no-one and no community is left behind."
Bad news for Branson then, whose Virgin Care beat the local NHS Foundation Trust to a £126 million contract to run health services in several of Kent’s hospitals for the next seven years - another step in the piecemeal sell-off of the NHS. But if that wasn’t outrageous enough, a report published by Unite the Union last year claims the following:
“Virgin Care, a subsidiary of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group Holdings Ltd is revealed to have paid no tax on its last reported profits. Virgin uses 13 intermediate holding companies to distance the firm’s healthcare division from its parent company, based in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.”
So a company which makes millions out of the privatisation of the NHS (in all but name) then fails to pay a penny of it back in tax. It is precisely this kind of cannibalistic profiteering that Corbyn seeks to end, both in health and in public transport. This is why the capitalists and their political representatives seek to discredit Corbyn and smear him at every opportunity: because he threatens their interests - their seemingly God-given right to parasitically profit from the rest of us.
But if Corbyn really is the electoral kryptonite the Blairites claim him to be, then why is all this necessary? Perhaps behind all the insults there is a genuine fear by the ruling class that he could find himself in a position to carry out his programme, which even in its fairly mild form would pose a major threat to the ill-gotten gains of tycoons like Branson.
One can’t help but wonder why Smith, who purports to share Corbyn’s values hasn’t been subject to the same treatment. Perhaps his fantastic communication skills and inspiring normalness wins over exploited and exploiter alike. Ultimately Labour members and supporters will decide - and by the looks of it, Smith is on track for an embarrassing defeat.
- For an end to profiteering!
- Nationalise all rail companies without compensation!
- No more PFI deals! Renationalise the NHS!
- Defend Corbyn and fight for socialism!