Tom Richmond: Quick to respond to Post as Grayling snubs Commons

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Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will not be forgiven in Yorkshire for dodging this week’s House of Commons debate on the future of the region’s creaking infrastructure.

Even more unforgivable, however, were the Department for Transport’s dealings with The Yorkshire Post when its editorial – which I penned – accused Mr Grayling of “snubbing” Yorkshire by refusing to defend his own decision-making.

Published after the debate, called by Hull North MP Diana Johnson, had started and when it was certain that Mr Grayling’s little-known number three Jesse Norman would be speaking for the Government, the DfT took umbrage.

Somebody clearly has Chris Grayling’s name programmed into the Google news alerts service. At 8.35pm, senior press officer Charlotte Bransgrove fired off an email which read: “It is nonsense to suggest this is a snub. As minister for local transport, it is right that Jesse Norman should respond to this debate for the Government.”

She ordered: “Please can you ensure this is updated in existing copy and included in new copy?”

We did not. As Ms Johnson noted with alacrity when she wound up the debate, the DfT was swifter off the mark than with Mr Grayling’s response to Gateshead MP Ian Mearns and his colleagues in the North East. Disrespectfully, they are still waiting for a reply to a letter sent more than 120 days ago in July.

Yet, despite my best efforts on your behalf, Mr Grayling’s department still refuses to answer three key questions:

Where was Chris Grayling and what kept him from attending the Commons debate on transport? After all, he was in London on Monday for a conference on driverless cars.

Which Minister or special advisor authorised the DfT Press office to issue a statement complaining about the use of the word ‘snubbed’? Ms Bransgrove’s missive could be construed as being political in tone.

When will Mr Grayling meet elected Yorkshire MPs to discuss their concerns?

If only the subject was Crossrail 2 in London which will benefit Mr Grayling’s Epsom and Ewell constituents.

Though the Department said it was investing record sums in the North, and Mr Grayling had already met countless stakeholders, this does not justify his reluctance to undertake scrutiny in Parliament about his decision to downgrade two rail electrification schemes and to give very limited decision-making powers to the Transport for the North quango. If he believes he’s acting in the public interest, he could still have attended at the very least.

I should point out that Mr Grayling did meet some West Yorkshire leaders on Tuesday in a rare audience, though they’re not convinced he understands the deep frustration in the North or how transport is crucial to the success of post-Brexit industrial strategy.

Yet perhaps the biggest insult of all was the Department for Transport’s arrogant belief that the issues concerned are ‘local’, hence Mr Norman being sent to the Commons to read out a pre-prepared speech and refuse to take questions from MPs – are Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Hull, York, Bradford and Newcastle now parish backwaters?

Given virtually every MP from Yorkshire said improved connectivity was crucial to raising economic performance, this was one betrayal too many.

Far from being ‘local’, the Northern Powerhouse should be a demonstration of national and international ambition. After this latest ‘snub’, it will never happen while Chris Grayling is left at the controls.

Top leaders in both the private and public sector are appointed to key roles after a rigorous recruitment process.

Why, therefore, does the same not apply to those Ministers, and their Opposition shadows, who are supposedly running this country? If there had been more robust vetting, would so many scandal-hit politicians have been appointed in the first place to top jobs?

And let’s not forget the selection of candidates. Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara has not yet broken his silence after being suspended by Labour for making deeply offensive comments. Still to make his maiden speech in the Commons, he was not present in the Commons for Monday’s debate on the North’s transport.

Former Sky News anchorman Jeremy Thompson is still scarred by his very first encounter with Margaret Thatcher after she came to power in 1979.

Covering a visit to Cleckheaton, he ordered his camera crew to set up in front of an attractive flower garden to provide a suitable backdrop for Mrs T.

According to his very readable memoir Breaking News, she told him: “What are you doing? I’ll be interviewed in front of this factory. Young man, I’ve come here to promote British industry, not horticulture.”

Those were the days.

I was heartened when junior environment minister Lord Gardiner of Kimble said that the Government recognises the importance of “rural proofing” of future policies.

What a shame therefore that his remarks, part of a rare debate on the rural economy, did not include the call by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, the former Thirsk and Malton MP, for far greater safeguards before fracking is contemplated in North Yorkshire.

Rural-proofing?

Just because Armistice Day falls on a Saturday should not stop anyone from paying their respects at 11am, and then again during tomorrow’s Remembrance Sunday services. It’s a
small sacrifice to make in honour of all those who defended our freedom.


tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk