TrainGate – the public verdict

Chris CurtisPolitical Research Manager
August 24, 2016, 3:57 PM GMT+0

By a margin of nearly three to one, voters believe Virgin trains over Jeremy Corbyn

One unlikely story high up the news agenda in recent days has been the tale of Jeremy Corbyn, the 11:00 Virgin train service from London to Newcastle, and a Facebook video about overcrowding on the railways.

The Labour leader posted a video in which he claimed the train was overcrowded and there were no unreserved seats available. Later, Corbyn was able to sit down after a family were upgraded to first class. Virgin Trains has responded, releasing CCTV footage and saying there were seats available and that Mr Corbyn walked past them on his way through the train.

The press has focussed a lot of attention on this row in the time of year dubbed “silly season” because of the many frivolous news stories whilst Parliament is in recess. It seems to have cut through with the public and nearly two out of three (68%) have “heard a lot” or “heard a little” about the events.

We asked those that had heard about the story which side they thought was most likely to be true. Over half (59%) think there were some unreserved seats available on the train whereas less than one in five think there weren’t (19%).

Current Labour voters are more divided with 39% believing Mr Corbyn’s version of events are more likely and 34% believing Virgin trains.

Opponents have claimed this hurts the Corbyn brand of “honest straight talking politics” and 47% of voters told us they think Jeremy Corbyn was “probably being dishonest and it matters”, compared to 10% who told us they think Jeremy Corbyn was “probably being dishonest but it doesn't matter”, and 18% who thought he was telling the truth.


Despite this, it’s still difficult to say the effect this will have on perceptions of the Labour leader or the current leadership election. Joe Twyman, head of Political and Social Research at YouGov, said:

"Usually individual events like this, particularly during the summer months, don’t have much on an impact on public perceptions. Occasionally, however, a specific instance will reinforce perceptions of an individual with such clarity that the single event can come to define them. In this instance my sense is that supporters of Corbyn will dismiss this as yet another attack by the media and / or the establishment. Corbyn’s opponents, in contrast, will see further evidence that he cannot be trusted and is not up to the job.

We also tested another option that would have been open to the Labour leader. The released CCTV footage showed many seats that appeared reserved but remained empty. Nearly four out of ten respondents (39%) told us they have sat in a reserved seat whilst just over half (56%) told us they haven’t.

Remain voters were more likely to have sat in a reserved seat than leave voters, though it isn’t clear if this is because they are more likely to be seat thieves or just more likely to travel by train.

Photo: PA

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