Is a March election back on?

Why Brown should not delay

There's renewed speculation over a March election this morning after Alistair Darling's highly political pre-Budget report yesterday.

I've long thought that Brown should go to the country in March rather than May or June. First, it would allow him to avoid the ignominy of calling an election at the last possible date. Second, a March election would mean Labour could neatly avoid breaking its pledge not to raise income tax during this parliament. The 50p tax rate won't kick in until April, raising the possibility that the Tories may be forced not merely to tolerate the tax, but to actually introduce it. Finally, with Labour now enjoying its biggest poll bounce since the beginning of the financial crisis, Brown should strike while the Tories are rattled.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Iain Martin predicts 25 March will be the date:

In this scenario, Brown would ask the Queen for a dissolution after parliament returns from its two-week recess on Monday, Feb. 22. That would lead into a four-week-and-a-bit campaign.

Last month, Nick Robinson suggested there was no chance of a March election, because the Budget is likely to be read in the same month. In fact, after the negative media response this morning to Darling's performance, I'd argue it's far more likely the Budget will be postponed until after the election.

Brown and Darling won't want to go through another morning of universally negative headlines about tax rises and the size of the deficit before the election. And with the pre-Budget report now a second Budget in all but name, there's no need for them to do so.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"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.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. 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."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here