Boris Johnson apologises to London Irish community

Mayor says his comments in the <em>New Statesman</em> were exploited to suggest he had anti-Irish fe

Boris Johnson, no stranger to gaffes, is well-practiced in the art of laughing off any offence caused. However, the mayor's buffoon act did not deflect his comments about London Irish community in last month's New Statesman, and he has now apologised.

Interviewed by Jemima Khan, Johnson made this throwaway remark:

"I'll tell you what makes me angry -- lefty crap," he thunders in response. Like? "Well, like spending £20,000 on a dinner at the Dorchester for Sinn Fein!"

As my colleague Mehdi Hasan pointed out, this was not founded in fact:

Is the mayor referring to the annual St Patrick's Day Gala Dinner, the £150-per-ticket black tie event that ran between 2002 and 2008 and was, ahem, self-financing? The dinner that Boris cancelled in 2009 to save money despite the fact that it was, um, er, self-financing? The dinner that wasn't held "for Sinn Fein" but at the request, and for the sake, of the Irish community of Kilburn, Cricklewood and other parts of the capital?

The remarks triggered a strong reaction among the Irish community. The front page of the Irish Post proclaimed "Boris: your attitude stinks".

Now, a month later and struggling to get ahead in the polls, Johnson has apologised for any offence caused. He told the Irish Independent: "I am profoundly sorry if I have offended any Irish person." He added: "I hope that people will see I was making a point about cost cutting."

The mayor's office has also released a letter send to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith to clarify his position. In it, he says that his comments were exploited to suggest he had anti-Irish feelings, saying that this was "deeply upsetting". In a rather non-apologetic apology, he said:

Although I note that the guests of honour at the 2008 St Patrick's Day dinner were Martin McGuinness and Pat Doherty, these were not dinners for Sinn Fein and, of course, I make absolutely no assumptions about the political allegiances of those who attended the dinners.

He makes no mention of the fact that the dinner included Irish public figures from across the spectrum, with a guestlist including Bob Geldof, Dermot O'Leary, the mayor of Dublin and the Irish ambassador to the UK.

In a classic Johnson move, he emphasised his apology for the "unintended offence that I may have given" with the gag: "Mayoral culpa, mayoral maxima culpa." One wonders whether this will be enough to undo the damage done by his reiteration of the old stereotype that all Irish people are Provos.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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