Ed Balls responds to the latest “smear” claim

New twist in the Andy Burnham “is he in/is he out” story.

My colleague George Eaton has blogged about Andy McSmith's interview with Andy Burnham in today's Independent, in which the shadow health secretary and Labour leadership contender accused supporters of a rival candidate of "conducting 'malicious briefing' in the hope of getting him to throw in the towel".

From the Independent:

Mr Burnham said that he "nearly fell out of his chair" when he read a report that he was looking for an early exit to avoid the embarrassment of coming fifth in a field of five.

McSmith adds:

Mr Burnham's camp have remained tight-lipped about who they blame for the smear but some have been quick to point the finger at supporters of Ed Balls.

But in an interesting twist to this story, the shadow education secretary himself has been in touch with me to deny the claims in McSmith's piece (and George's blogpost). He said:

There is no truth in these allegations, in these smears about me or my supporters. It is complete nonsense. Andy and I get on very well and no one from my team was involved in these briefings.

And it seems Balls and Burnham have been in discussions about the claims in the Independent:

Andy Burnham and I spoke this morning and we both agreed that any suggestion of him pulling is out rubbish. We both agreed that no one surrounding me has made this allegation. And both of us think there is mischief being made -- but it's not coming from my team or his team. It's coming from a third party.

Balls added:

I've had three years of people ringing up people like Rachel Sylvester and making accusations against me, off the record. But the only thing I've been focused on in recent days is Michael Gove.

I asked him who he thought had briefed the papers, but Balls would only say: "I have my suspicions. And so does Andy."

I guess if it wasn't Balls, and wasn't Burnham himself, then that leaves us with the supporters of either Diane Abbott or one of the Miliband brothers.

Who is this "third party"? The plot, as they say, just got thicker . . .

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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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