It’s not only Iain Duncan Cough who is thought of as not one of the Tories’ sharper minds: that attribute can also be awarded to Chris Grayling, who is still Minister for Transport, but after recent revelations, one wonders for how much longer he will remain in post. When Grayling was appointed to the Transport portfolio by Theresa May, it was thought that little would change in that sphere, if only because of his intellectual inertia.
You've no sodding idea, have you?
But that thought was misplaced: the much-trialled further involvement of the private sector in the railways was unveiled this week, to the clear distaste of those at the Guardian, who observed “Mr Grayling is not really the pragmatist he is pretending to be … he is certainly discriminating against the public sector and against forms of public regulation he dislikes”. And something else he dislikes is the prospect of Labour politicians in power.
We know this because the Evening Standard, having experienced a Damascene conversion from fervently backing Tory Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, only to now decide that his opponent Sadiq Khan was actually the better candidate, has published a “private note” from Grayling to Khan’s predecessor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, in which he asserts he doesn’t want Labour to get their hands on anyone’s trains.
Although in favour of Bozza’s call to have Transport for London oversee more of the suburban rail service, Grayling adds “While I am generally a great supporter of what you are doing in London, I would not be in favour of changing the current arrangements - not because I have any fear over the immediate future, but because I would like to keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of any future Labour Mayor”.
As the Standard points out, “Mr Grayling was writing as a South East MP although he was Justice Secretary at the time so would have had a seat at the Cabinet table where any decision on rail devolution would be approved”. The Guardian noted “Some London MPs were furious about the letter, with Bob Neill, a Conservative former minister, saying Grayling should step down for prioritising party politics over the interests of his Bromley constituents”. And there was a less than happy reaction from Khan.
“If I’m honest, I simply do not understand why the government is now so vehemently opposed to improving suburban rail services in London … I sincerely hope it is not because they are reluctant to give control of these lines to a Labour mayor - commuters’ lives are far, far more important than party politics”. Also, readers were reminded of “Patrick McLoughlin, the former transport secretary, and Johnson striking a deal before the election to allow devolution when franchises come up for renewal”.
All of which means that the Guardian’s London man Dave Hill was reading the runes correctly when he told readers “Does Chris Grayling really want to give troubled Southern rail to Sadiq Khan? Despite sharp exchanges between the London mayor and a Tory opponent there is cross-party consensus on suburban rail devolution, which includes concerns that the transport secretary’s heart isn’t in it” back in September.
After the leaked note, there is really only one timetable path that can be made available for the Grayling Express, and that is one featuring an immediate departure. He’s not just a fool, he’s very publicly a fool, having been condemned by his own words.