Anthony Clavane: Both Chris Grayling and Alan Partridge have the cringe factor - you tend to look through your fingers whenever they appear on telly

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has come in for heavy criticism in recent months. (Getty images).
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has come in for heavy criticism in recent months. (Getty images).
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For all comedy fans, this has been a glorious week. The astonishing and unsurpassable Fleabag returned for a new BBC series. It was announced that Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day will take place next Friday. And Westminster’s own Alan Partridge continued to make the nation chuckle with his hilarious gaffes.

Never mind the new rock ‘n’ roll. All around the world, comedy is now the new politics.

In Ukraine, the comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy has emerged as a frontrunner in the presidential election. In the United States, President Trump’s rambling two-hour speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference was described by commentators as “comedy gold”. Last year, Slovenia elected satirist Marjan Sarec as its prime minster. The former comic actor Jimmy Morales is the president of Guatemala.

And in this country, of course, we have Chris Grayling.

Do not adjust your TV sets. Mr Grayling is not a new character created by Steve Coogan. Coogan’s most famous creation, who has also returned to the Beeb as a stand-in host on the fictional show This Time, has nothing on Grayling.

Blundering, incompetent and a figure of fun to one and all, Westminster’s Alan Partridge has even cracked America. In a brilliant editorial earlier this week, the New York Times described the Transport Secretary as “a byword for haplessness in a golden age of political blundering in Britain...”

One has to hand it to Grayling. The Cabinet is full of blundering incompetents, but he has seen off all rivals to become the main man.

He has even put clear blue water between himself and his closest rival in the Cabinet’s super league of silliness, Gavin Williamson. The 42-year-old Defence Secretary, a byword for bombastic shallowness, made us laugh when he proposed firing paintballs to scare Spanish ships from trespassing in Gibraltar’s waters. Posting an Instagram picture of his 1981 Land Rover Defender, he had us all chortling with his insistence that it epitomised everything that is so great about Britain – even though the luxury car brand has been owned by India’s Tata Motors for over ten years.

And Private Pike, as some politicians have unkindly referred to him, invited the Captain Mainwaring response of “stupid boy” for telling the Russians to “go away and shut up” during the Skripal affair.

Still, the beleaguered Transport Secretary’s hilarious moments remain unrivalled in recent political history.

Born on April Fool’s Day, during his six-year stint in the Cabinet, Grayling has presided over myriad disasters, shambles and mishaps. One of his first moves at Transport was to send a poor cyclist flying with his car door outside the Palace of Westminster. Readers will remember how the fiasco of his new rail timetables inspired the Yorkshire Post into labelling him “Failing Grayling”. His latest blunder tops the lot, awarding a contract for extra ferries to a company with no ships and no experience whatsoever of running a ferry service.

The joke isn’t funny any more.

Both Grayling and Partridge have the cringe factor. You tend to look through your fingers whenever they appear on the telly, mishandling and misreading situations, both appearing to be totally inept and out of their depth.

And yet there could be method in their mirth-making. Norfolk’s finest DJ has shown just how canny he can be in his latest TV vehicle, defying the laws of talkshow gravity to work his way up the greasy pole of showbiz. Like Grayling, he has not only survived but thrived in a cut-throat world.

As his downtrodden but trusted assistant Lynn advised him in the latest episode, channelling her inner Lady Macbeth: “Fortune favours the bold. The time is upon us.”

For some mysterious reason, the prime minister has full confidence in Grayling.

He has consistently defied the laws of political gravity, surviving one blunder after another. He is Theresa May’s loyal minister, a Brexiteer who won’t – unlike Amber Rudd and Penny Mordaunt – go off script and undermine her position. He might, like Alan, be the master of disaster but he appears to be unsackable.

If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.