The Adgenda: Virgin has a new idea for "in-flight entertainment"

It's jokey, but a bit much?

Virgin Airways has sent out a new infomercial, a "guide to getting lucky."

“Hello there esteemed sexual predators. Come in, sit down, have a drink. You must be knackered after a good long day of ignoring personal space and leering at dating site profiles. But here’s some great news. Virgin has taken your concerns in hand and offers a streamlined and efficient way to creep on people. Intimidated by that first lewd comment and potential sexual harassment lawsuit? Let our staff break the ice for you. Our flight attendants are highly trained in and very eager to act as middlemen in your misguided attempts at affection. Nothing says romance and honest intentions more than a plastic cup of champagne or a portion of our famously high-quality meals. No longer will strangers on planes be out of your reach. Things like common courtesy and respect for your fellow travelers may apply on the ground, but in the air all bets are off. Not that I’m a betting man myself, but I’d say there’s a good 50 per cent chance of joining our very selective mile high club. You may have entered a Virgin but that doesn’t mean you have to leave one.”

The music is cheesy, Branson cheesier and the whole thing smacks of parody, but yes “Seat-to-seat” delivery is now a thing at Virgin Airlines. You can send drinks or food to other passengers with personalized notes, and perhaps “get lucky” according to the ad.

Branson is known for over-the-top advertisement gimmicks; who can forget the time he showed up in a wedding dress for the launch of Virgin Brides. This could be another of these headline-grabbing stunts. At least we hope so.

He has always wanted Virgin Airlines to have a laid-back, but classy reputation, a la an exclusive country club. But no matter how soft the seats or how much legroom he can provide airplanes are a mode of transport. Imagine the same scenario in a bus or on the tube. No you can’t and you shouldn’t be able to. Planes and trains are a means to an end, going from point A to B. Yes you can make it more comfortable and yes chatting to others can kill a few boring hours, but it is not a dating service.

Any woman who has ever had a creep hit on them will not enjoy Branson’s little wink-wink-hint-hint joke about the mile high club he gave to CNBC:  "Perhaps on the way to the loo that person can let you know if they fancy you, too. Let me just say, we are not the sort of airline which bangs on the lavatory door."

 

 

 

Branson offers a new service for those long plane journeys. Photo by China Photos/Getty Images
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.