Worst Take of the Week: Richard Branson on Punctuality vs Gulags Are... Good!
Man who owns a train company whose trains are famously always late complains about people being late.
Photo: EDB Image Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Welcome to Angus Take House – a weekly column in which I will be pitting two of the wildest takes the world's great thinkers have rustled up against each other. This is your one-stop shop for the meatiest verdicts and saltiest angles on the world's happenings. Go and grab a napkin – these juicy hot takes are fresh from the griddle.
What's the story? Being punctual!
Reasonable Take: Is good!
Branson's Pickle: Is EVERYTHING!
Richard Branson's Twitter account is a strange place at the best of times. It’s essentially a stream of business school platitudes, inspirational quotes and brief anecdotes, shared over steamy photos of the big man, normally grinning like a school boy from a tropical island somewhere, looking like Noel Edmonds' cooler older brother on his gap year. A particularly bizarre recent bout has seen him tweet images of himself hiking up an arid mountainside somewhere, alongside statistics detailing the proportion of excluded school-children likely to end up in prison. This makes more sense when you realise he's been hiking to raise money for a series of youth projects, but in isolation it simply looks like the leathery billionaire is ruining another family holiday spouting factoids about social mobility.
This week, however, poor old Branson has played himself in a big way on the TL. Clearly done with telling people to believe in themselves, or to never give up, he went in big on punctuality, declaring lateness the worst quality in a person! Not only that, but the tweets came with some hastily snapped photographs of him running down the streets of Manhattan, looking like a senile sexagenarian Tom Cruise who hasn't realised he stopped making Mission Impossible films 20 years ago and is still sprinting everywhere and shouting into ear-pieces.
Now, "don't be late" isn't, in of itself, a bad take. In fact, it’s a great take. I actually happen to agree with every word the rich sod has said there. There's nothing worse than that inevitable slumping feeling, as you watch 7 turn into 7:05, then ten past, then quarter past, before receiving a short "sorry mate trains are fucking me over", which you know isn’t true but have no reliable way of disproving, so have to reply with a cheery "no worries mate x". Honestly! Nothing boils my blood more! I’m shooting lasers out of my eyes here I’m so mad! I get it, Richard. I do.
However, maybe if you run a rail service, this is a bit of – if not a massive – open goal? Especially if you run a rail service like Virgin Trains. As Sky News business correspondent Adam Parsons pointed out on Twitter, 60 percent of Virgin Rail trains are late, 3 percent are over an hour late, and 2 to 3 percent are cancelled. This basically feels a lot like Mike Ashley dropping a big "If there’s one thing that really grinds my gears, it’s precarious employment!" tweet. Maybe, though, the backlash to this tweet comes down to something else. Lateness aside, for most people in the UK, very little annoys them in life, but someone suing the NHS when they already have £2 billion in healthcare contracts really does!
What's the story? Gulags, or the threat of being sent to said gulag.
Reasonable Take: Gulag, for me, is a word with negative connotations. But that’s just me.
Spicy Gruel: Did you know "gulag" is actually the Russian word "Centre Parcs".
Goldsmiths University’s LGBTQ+ society this week found themselves in a heated back and forth, during which they started posting screenshots of people they planned to block – people they considered to be TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). When Twitter user Claire Graham responded, describing the society as "a bit fascist", the group replied "nah, we’ll just arrange to send you to the gulag", with a chirpy smiley face for good measure. Which, given the subterranean depths the bar has now been lowered to, is actually a fairly cordial Twitter exchange.
What came next was a twist, mind you. Perhaps hoping to clear up what they meant by "gulag", the society launched into an impassioned explanation of why gulags weren’t as bad as everybody makes out. According to their thread, they were places of rehabilitation to "correct and change" criminals, where people could enjoy education activities such as book clubs, sports and theatre performances. What’s more, prisoners even had the chance to move up the ranks once they were in. Now, actually, none of this is untrue – for instance, art and culture was a consistent throughout gulags in Soviet Russia, both conducted by the prisoners in secret and overseen by the administration. However, it’s a pretty generous airbrushing of a practice more historically defined by forced labour and the deaths of over a million people.
Goldsmiths have released a statement, announcing that the LGBTQ+ society has been "suspended and disaffiliated from the Students' Union, pending investigation". They explained that the society has "broken multiple Union policies and procedures, including failing to adhere to our code of conduct" and as such have had their support withdrawn – although the university does add that additional support will be provided for LGBTQ+ students via other channels.
The most annoying thing about Project: Rebrand Gulags, though, is that it’s prime fodder for every Spectator blogger, Daily Mail staffer and Andrew Neil-following retiree from Kent who tweets from a chunky desktop, complete with sliding keyboard shelf (a set-up he refers to as "mission control"). Talking about gulags, even in jest, is enough to get Piers Morgan seeing double during a segment on "crazy Corbynistas" on Good Morning Britain, let alone launching into a full blown explanation of why they are actually misunderstood. I can practically hear Nick Ferrari’s cheeks slapping together as he reads about this in the Express and starts shaking his head uncontrollably in shocked delight.
One of the biggest struggles when it comes to trans rights is trying to have a normal conversation about it. The media all too often get away with sliding into whataboutery – normally about toilets – instead of getting into the lived realities of trans people around the world. Now the nation's political commentators are going to get away with avoiding the issue entirely, by cracking half-baked gags about being sent to Siberia to John Humphrys. D’oh!
PRIME CUT: Did you know gulags actually have a lot of good Trip Advisor reviews, it’s just that the bad ones rise to the top because people are more likely to complain about a bad experience than they are to leave a nice message about a good one. Just saying!