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Tom Richmond: It’s destination doom with ‘don’t blame me’ Chris Grayling in charge

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
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JUST two words illustrate why politicians are so mistrusted by the public – Chris Grayling.

The fact that he became Transport Secretary speaks volumes about the calibre of the Tory party leadership.

And the longer Theresa May keeps him in place as the North’s rail network grinds to a halt, the more diminished the Prime Minister becomes.

After all, the transport network drives the national economy – and is intrinsic to the morale of the country.

If the trains fail to this extent, the impact on lives reflects poorly on the competence of the government of the day.

Yet Mr Grayling’s career has been going backwards from the day he was elevated to the post of Shadow Home Secretary by David Cameron, the then Opposition leader, in 2009. It was a reward for Mr Grayling, then a clear communicator, being an effective Tory “attack dog” who pursued a succession of high-profile Labour politicians when they became embroiled in sleaze scandals – how ironic that the hunter is now the hunted.

Yet the subsequent Parliamentary expenses storm should have stopped Mr Grayling’s career in its tracks. It emerged he had claimed thousands for his London flat, including £4,250 for decorating work, £1,561 for a new bathroom and £1,527 for plumbing, when his family home was less than 20 miles from Westminster.

One of the shadow ministers ordered by Mr Cameron to repay some of this money, he attributed his financial arrangements to his erratic hours and cut a peripheral figure during the 2010 election and formation of the subsequent coalition, when Mr Cameron surprised many by giving Mrs May, his eventual successor, the Home Affairs brief.

Instead, Mr Grayling served as an abrasive Employment Minister before being elevated to the Cabinet as Justice Secretary in 2012. Even now, the legal profession shudder at how he was allowed to cut legal aid, dismantle the Probation Service, empower private firms to cut reoffending and ban books from being sent to prisoners to help their literacy.

After the 2015 election, this “great survivor” became Leader of the Commons rather than being given a one-way ticket to the backbenches

He then masterminded Mrs May’s leadership campaign in 2016. Many expected this loyalty to be rewarded with a great office of state – John Major, for example, made his leadership manager, Norman Lamont, Chancellor in 1990.

Yet Mr Grayling, a prominent Leave supporter in the EU referendum, had to settle for the seemingly innocuous transport brief. It begs the question why Mrs May – just like Mr Cameron in 2010 – baulked at giving her campaign chief a more high-profile role.

It was said that transport was always his preferred choice. However, Mr Grayling has demonstrated few capabilities and only Mrs May can explain why she did not shunt her colleague into the political sidings in the reshuffle that followed last year’s election – or the more recent shake-ups necessitated by the resignations of Sir Michael Fallon, Priti Patel, Damian Green amd Amber Rudd.

Keeping him in post smacks of political cowardice when the 56-year-old, who has twice accepted free hospitality worth £300 from Manchester United this year according to the Register of Members’ Interests, is single-handedly destroying the Tory party’s credibility in the North.

Travellers and taxpayers deserve better than a disingenuous minister who implied during the election last year that the Government would electrify the Midland Mainline and other routes when the decision, according to the National Audit Office, had already been taken to scrap the schemes.

They also have a right to expect better from a Macavity-like politician who has tried to dodge responsibility, avoid scrutiny and deflect blame from the moment he tried to dismiss the North’s needs and favour a second Crossrail line in London which, at a cost of £30bn, will benefit his Surrey constituents. His planned meetings with MPs last night had to be cancelled – just like the trains – because he hadn’t enough time to accommodate everyone. It’s farcical.

And they need to know why Mr Grayling’s management was so poor that he allowed ruinous timetable changes to be introduced without checking if Network Rail engineering was complete. Now, 165 daily services have been taken out of service until the end of July.

From Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames telling Mr Grayling about his “grave concern” over the inconvenience being suffered by his Sussex constituents to Lindsay Hoyle, Deputy Speaker of the Commons, challenging the Transport Secretary “to take control of the Northern Rail service with immediate effect”, politicians are united in their condemnation.

As Mr Hoyle, a North West MP, wrote: “The Government has placed huge emphasis on the value of the north of England, yet the much vaunted powerhouse can never be taken seriously if people cannot travel by train.”

Given this, Mr Grayling’s “don’t blame me” letter to the area’s MPs last week – and the cancellation of scheduled meetings – has shown, once again, a cavalier contempt for the North which has culminated with today’s unprecedented joint editorial by newspapers across the region calling for the Prime Minister to intervene.

If she does not, Theresa May must explain why she’s rewarding failure by keeping Mr Grayling in post and, at the same time, insulting rail passengers, betraying the North and bringing 
politics into disrepute. For, if this is the best she can do, Britain – and the rail network – is doomed.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk