HENRY DEEDES sees the Transport Secretary trundle off into the sidings

Gurner Grayling may as well have a target on his bald patch: HENRY DEEDES sees the Transport Secretary trundle off into the sidings

Snigger all you like, but there was once a time when the name Chris Grayling struck fear into the bellies of Labour’s front bench.

Way back in those formative days of David Cameron’s leadership of the Tory party, the then shadow leader of the house carved out a reputation as a hatchet man.

It was gurner Grayling who turned on Cherie Blair, demanding that the then PM’s wife donated earnings from speaking tours to charity. 

He also eviscerated Labour’s transport minister for misleading MPs over the collapse of Railtrack.

Snigger all you like, but there was once a time when the name Chris Grayling struck fear into the bellies of Labour’s front bench

These days, the one-time rottweiler is more of a benign mongrel. Unwanted. Unloved. Booted around often.

As Transport Secretary, he is attacked so often that he might as well have a red target etched on his bald spot. 

He has become a human sponge in a charcoal suit, absorbing daily brickbats from commuters over the country’s creaky transport infrastructure.

With a new prime minister imminent, a reflective period on the backbenches for Grayling seems almost certain.

His Labour opponents will be sorry to see him go. Mocking Grayling and his departmental bunglings has become their favourite sport.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Paula Sherriff (Lab – Dewsbury) disparagingly referred to him as the ‘legendary Transport Secretary’. Grayling let the insult just bounce of him.

Yesterday, he faced what undoubtedly was his final session of Transport Questions. 

Shadow attorney general Karl Turner (Hull East) declared it a sad day as the minister was ‘the gift that keeps on giving’. Titters reverberated around the opposition benches.

Way back in those formative days of David Cameron’s leadership of the Tory party, the then shadow leader of the house carved out a reputation as a hatchet man

Grayling sat motionless, both sets of limbs folded up tightly. Body language experts would explain this was the standard mien of a man on the defensive.

It was hardly an enlivening session. We heard of decarbonisation, vehicle emissions, railway accessibility and more.

For a moment I thought we would get through the entire hour without the dreaded ‘B’ word until Alan Brown (SNP – Kilmarnock) raised a query right at the death about No Deal planning.

Grayling perched awkwardly throughout. At times he appeared not to be totally with us. Unbovvered. Almost as though he was resigned to his fate.

Even that nervous twitch, which tends to creep up the upper west side of his face under times of stress, didn’t bother to surface.

He pawed off many of the questions raised to his subordinate, Michael Ellis (Northampton North). Ah, Ellis. 

What a study in affected courtliness he is. He’s another destined for the chop come the inevitable reshuffle, poor fellow. I express sympathy because he’s even prouder of his night-time Red Boxes than he is of his burgeoning collection of Turnbull & Asser shirts.

He means well but possesses a (admittedly harmless) pompousness rather too easy to prick.

 At one point, Ellis informed the chamber he had recently ridden an electronic bicycle. ‘They’re very good for going up hills,’ he enthused to wild indifference around the House.

The Speaker suggested portly Ellis was ‘challenging our vivid imagination’ with such a remark. An unnecessary put-down but then Bercow was full of them yesterday.

When Andrew Bridgen (Con – North West Leicestershire) raised concern about the effect of hefty electric cars on road maintenance, Bercow remarked sourly: ‘Interesting – the Honourable Gentleman is giving the impression of knowing something.’

Bridgen, need I point out, is a persistent Bercow critic.

Back to Granny Grayling. Patrick Grady (SNP – Glasgow North) mentioned a recent BBC TV Panorama programme in which the minister was revealed to have left a stern voicemail with the Road Haulage Association after it had publicly criticised his Brexit preparations.

Was it now the Government’s policy, Grady asked, to threaten stakeholders who dare speak out against them?

‘No,’ Grayling replied. ‘The Hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood.’ Translation: I’m not even going to bother defending myself against that now.

Then, just after 10.30am, that was that. The minister made his final exit. No goodbyes, no parting gifts. 

Though I dare say there may have been a few wet hankies on the Labour front benches. They’re going to miss him even more than we sketch writers will.

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