Either Theresa May is so weak that she cannot afford to lose another Brexiteer – or she thinks no one in her party can do a better job than the Transport Secretary.
Neither defence, however, is tenable.
For, while one word – Brexit – will define the May premiership, the sobriquet Failing Grayling – first coined by this newspaper following the Transport Secretary’s broken promises over rail investment – will also remain synonymous with her government.
After Mr Grayling finally emerged after 96 hours in purdah to say he will “continue serving the Prime Minister as long as she wants me to”, Mrs May should accept this tentative resignation offer. Another day with the Transport Secretary in post will be one too many.
The only surprise, however, is that it has taken so long for the national media – and now international titles after the New York Times lampooned ‘‘Failing Grayling’’ as “a byword for haplessness in a golden age of political blundering” – to appreciate that no other Minister is held in such contempt by the public.
More than a year after The Yorkshire Post noted Mr Grayling’s Macavity-like tendency to vanish at times of trouble, such comparisons do a disservice to the integrity of TS Eliot’s mystery cat and I apologise for this.
Take the past week. A scathing report by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that the Department for Transport had learned insufficient lessons from last year’s unprecedented chaos on the railways presided over by Mr Grayling, the man who said he didn’t run the trains.
The National Audit Office revealing that Mr Grayling’s controversial part-privatisation of the Probation Service was going to cost nearly £500m more than anticipated – and that it had not led to the intended reduction in reoffending.
And confirmation that the DfT had paid a £33m compensation to Eurotunnel for “absolutely nothing” in order to avoid a High Court showdown over the awarding of no-deal Brexit contracts worth £108m to three ferry firms. These included Seaborne Freight, the outfit with no ships.
In isolation, these would have been potential resignation, or career-ending, issues in any previous political era. Collectively, they are a national scandal.
Yet did Mr Grayling accept responsibilty for these failures, apologise and answer questions from MPs on Monday at the first opportunity?
No. Prisons Minister Rory Stewart had to answer for the Government over the justice injustices.
And then Matt Hancock – the Health and Social Care Secretary – had to become a ‘‘human shield’’ for Mr Grayling and take the flak for the Eurotunnel payout because the issue was about delivering “the unhindered supply of vital medicines” if there is a no-deal Brexit. Significantly, he did not defend his Cabinet colleague.
When Mr Grayling did emerge from his bunker on Tuesday, he said the Eurotunnel decision had been taken by a “Cabinet committee”. In other words, he reverted to type and blamed others.
Yet, if Mr Grayling hopes this defence – and abuse of Parliament – is acceptable as the Government appears to limit his media appearances to avoid further embarrassment, he is mistaken.
Labour now claim that the cumulative cost of Mr Grayling’s failed policies amounts to £2.7bn – money denied to key services.
And then there is the unspecified damage to the integrity of Britain’s democracy nearly 10 years after politics was rocked by the Parliamentary expenses scandal. Some MPs went to prison, others saw their reputations ruined – and others were fortunate to be given a second chance.
The latter include Mr Grayling who was tasked by the Tories with exposing Labour hypocrisy. What he did not disclose, however, was that he had used loopholes to support his extensive property portfolio, including a claim for more than £10,000 to renovate a flat in central London when his constituency home was less than 17 miles from the House of Commons.
The Daily Telegraph also revealed that Mr Grayling submitted a claim for £2,250 in June 2006 for work carried out 12 months previously. The Epsom MP’s claim stated: “Decorator has been very ill & didn’t invoice me until now.”
Though there was nothing improper, and Parliamentary allowances have been overhauled, the fallout lingers. I’ve lost count of the number of emails and messages from readers who are appalled, astonished and aghast that the Transport Secretary has not resigned – or been sacked. Though most are mature enough to assess Mr Grayling’s (mis)conduct in isolation, some are less charitable and believe – erroneously – that all politicians behave like him.
This could not be further from the truth – but Theresa May’s lenience towards the man who ran her leadership election in 2016 risks compromising, still further, the strained relationship between politicians and the public. And it says it all when it would actually be cheaper if Chris Grayling was paid his Ministerial salary – to stay at home and do nothing. At least the country wouldn’t be any worse off.