Ross Clark

Is Virgin Trains really any more ‘progressive’ than the Daily Mail?

Is Virgin Trains really any more 'progressive' than the Daily Mail?
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Virgin Trains has announced that it will no longer sell the Daily Mail on board its services nor offer it free to first class passengers on the basis that 'We’ve decided that this paper is not compatible with the VT brand and our beliefs'. It goes on to say its staff have objected to the Mail’s 'position on...immigration, LGBT rights, and unemployment' – although it fails to expound exactly what it finds so offensive about the Mail’s coverage on these issues.

So is it a victory for the 'Stop Funding Hate' campaign – or a reflection that the Daily Mail has been at the forefront of criticism of Virgin Trains for exploiting its monopoly to jack up fares and its failure to deliver on the East Coast, where it runs trains in a joint operation with Stagecoach and has just been released from its contractual obligations to make payments to the government to 2023?

I know that there are some people on the left for whom the Daily Mail and everything it publishes are the incarnation of evil, but I would have thought that even those people would stop a minute to ask themselves whether it is really such a good idea that a corporation which has received a pasting in the press attempts to banish one of the critical newspapers from its retail outlets.

The Daily Mail and the Guardian might not see eye to eye on many things, but one of the things on which they are agreed is that Virgin Trains is a disgrace. Last week, for example, Alex Brummer wrote in the Daily Mail of how the consortium of Virgin Trains and Stagecoach, which runs services of the East Coast route, has turned 'the eight-year franchise they secured into a breathtaking failure that could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions'. The Mail’s conclusion was absolutely in line with the Guardian’s own coverage of Virgin’s bailout (you can read Nils Pratley’s piece from last week here). It is hardly surprising that Virgin should attract such attention from across the political spectrum – the government’s treatment of Virgin, which was allowed to book the profits during the good times on its West Coast franchise but is saved from making payments elsewhere in the bad times, is a scandal from either a socialist or capitalist perspective.

The 'Stop Funding Hate' types who might be tempted to cheer Virgin’s decision to stop stocking the Mail might also like to reflect on Virgin’s treatment of a female student who last week complained that a Virgin employee called her ‘honey’ when she complained about a nightmare journey. She received, in a return tweet, the response: 'Sorry for the mess up Emily, would you prefer ‘pet’ or ‘love’ next time?' I am not sure exactly what Virgin Trains brand and beliefs are supposed to represent but I am damned sure they are not compatible with the progressive politics of people who back Stop Funding Hate any more than they are with the Daily Mail.

I declare an interest in that I have written some of the Daily Mail pieces attacking Virgin Trains, most recently last week about the way the company has exploited its monopoly to jack up the price of a standard anytime return from London to Manchester to £338. I can see how Virgin Trains might find this sort of coverage inconvenient, but if I were a Virgin Trains PR man I don’t think I would want to be seen to be censoring it.