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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Who'll win the Richmond Park by-election?

There are three known unknowns that will decide the contest. 

It’s official: Zac Goldsmith has resigned as the Conservative MP for his Richmond Park seat, and has triggered a by-election there, where he will stand as an independent candidate.

Will it be a two-way or a three-way race?

The big question is whether the contest will be a three way fight between him, the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, and an official Conservative candidate, or if CCHQ will decide to write the thing off and not field a candidate, making it a two-horse race between Goldsmith and Olney.

There are several Tory MPs who are of the opinion that, given that latitude to disagree on Heathrow has been granted to two Cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, similar leeway should be extended to Goldsmith. It’s win-win for Downing Street not to contest it, partly because doing so would put anti-Heathrow MPs, including Johnson and Greening, in an impossible position. Theresa May isn’t averse to putting Johnson in a tricky spot, but Greening was an early supporter of her leadership bid, so her interests come fairly high up the prime ministerial radar.

But the second reason not to contest it is that Goldsmith’s chances of re-election will be put in a serious jeopardy if there is a Tory candidate in the race. Everything from the local elections in May or the Liberal mini-revival since Brexit indicates that in a three-way race, they will start as heavy favourites, and if a three-way race results in a Liberal Democrat win there will be bloodletting.

Although people are talking up Goldsmith’s personal vote, I can find little hard evidence that he has one worth writing home about. His performance in the wards of Richmond Park in the mayoral election was actually a bit worse than the overall Tory performance in London.  (Boris Johnson didn’t have a London seat so we cannot compare like-for-like, but Sadiq Khan did four points better in Tooting than he did across London and significantly outperformed his general election performance there.) He did get a big swing from Liberal to Conservative at the general election, but big swings from the Liberal candidate to the Tory were a general feature of the night, and I’m not wholly convinced, given his performance in Richmond Park in 2016, that it can be laid at Goldsmith’s door.

If he wins, it’ll be because he was the Conservative candidate, rather than through any particular affection for him personally.

But will being the Conservative candidate be enough?

Although on paper, he inherits a healthy majority. So did Robert Courts, the new MP for Witney, and he saw it fall by 19 points, with the Liberal Democrats storming from fourth to second place. Although Goldsmith could, just about, survive a fall of that magnitude, there are reasons to believe it may be worse in Richmond Park than Witney.

The first is that we already know, not just from Witney but from local council by-elections, that the Liberal Democrats can hurt the Conservatives in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote. But in Witney, they barely squeezed the Labour vote, which went down by just over two points, or the Green vote, which went down by just under two points. If in Richmond Park, they can both damage the Tory vote thanks to Brexit and squeeze Labour and the Greens, they will win.

Goldsmith's dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty will particularly help squeeze the Labour vote, and thanks to Witney, the Liberal Democrats have a ready-made squeeze message. (In Witney, Green and Labour votes would have been more than enough to elect Liz Leffman, the Liberal candidate.)

But their good performance in Witney and Goldsmith's mayoral result may not be enough on their own.  Ultimately, the contest will come down to the big question that will decide not just the outcome in Richmond Park but the future of the Liberal Democrats.

Have the voters forgiven the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition?

We know that Brexit can help the Liberal Democrats at the direct expense of the Conservatives. What we don’t know is if Brexit is enough to convince 6,000 Labour voters in Bath to vote tactically to get Ben Howlett out in exchange for a Lib Dem, or for 7,500 Labour voters to back a Liberal candidate in Hazel Grove to defeat William Wragg.

One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats lost votes directly to the Tories in 2015 was fear: of uncertainty and chaos under an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP. That factor is less live in a by-election but has been further weakened due to the fact that Brexit – at least as far as Remain-backing Conservatives are concerned – has brought just as much uncertainty and chaos as Miliband and the SNP ever would have.

But the other reason was disgust at the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives. If they can’t win over enough votes from the parties of the left, we’ll know that the party still has a way to come before we can truly speak of a Liberal revival. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.