Tom Richmond: Tories let slip fears that rail – and Chris Grayling – could be ticket to election defeat

NOT for the first time, the Department for Transport – still headed by Chris Grayling – finds itself on the wrong side of public opinion.

Rail Minister Andrew Jones says season-ticket holders are not entitled to seats.

I refer to the little-noticed comments made by Harrogate MP Andrew Jones, the new Rail Minister, when challenged by colleagues over the new delay repayment schemes. Even though they now kick in after 15 minutes, pressure is growing for season-ticket holders to be entitled to refunds if they’re denied a seat because of overcrowding.

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Mr Jones is unmoved – for now. “It would be very challenging to introduce that extra condition to the compensation structures. We must try to ensure that there are enough seats, but it is hard to guarantee that everyone will have a seat on every occasion,” he told Parliament.

“The right to a seat is not actually included in the ticket – the ticket entitles the passenger to ride and to complete the journey, but not to have a seat – although of course we want passengers to have comfortable seats, along with access to wifi, power sockets and so forth.

“I am aware of the issue... and I will certainly give it further consideration.”

Yet, while Mr Jones was speaking in response to criticism from MPs representing a London commuter line, it was significant that the complainants were predominantly Tory politicians.

People like James Cleverley who said that commuters are pragmatic and reasonable people, but that “their patience is not an ever-filling well”.

And why did his intervention matter? He is also deputy chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for election planning.

If he thinks there’s a problem, and feels the need to break ranks, then the time has come for every disgruntled commuter to put pressure on their MP. They will never have a more opportune time to do so. For, inadvertently or otherwise, Mr Cleverley helpfully confirmed that the biggest electoral threat to his party could be Chris Grayling, and not Brexit, if the country has to go to the polls in the near future.

I’M afraid there are too many politicians who are allowing the national broadcast media to dictate the Brexit agenda. Education Secretary Damian Hinds undertook an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme without making any mention of his schools brief – even though skills is integral to the UK’s future.

He’s not alone. Tony Lloyd, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, managed to do the same. He also did not inspire confidence when asked how he would vote on Tuesday night. He said he would support Labour – but couldn’t confirm his party’s stance because it had not been finalised.

SPEAKER John Bercow took Heather Wheeler, a junior minister, to task this week. “The growing phenomenon of Ministers reading out great screeds that have been written is very undesirable,” he told her.

Perhaps he should tell the same to backbenchers. I have no idea whether the script Jack Brereton read out in a debate on immigration was his own, or written by an aide, but its delivery – and the MP’s reluctance to engage with opponents – was, at best, a waste of time and that’s being charitable on my part.

ORDER, order. I know Britain is revered for tradition, hence the rather ancient Parliamentary procedures that are becoming more familiar to TV viewers with each Brexit vote. But why, in the 21st century, do MPs still have to shuffle through division lobbies to register their decision when electronic voting would be quicker – and more efficient – use of time?

UNSURPRISINGLY, the pre-election leaflet of trade union activist Jane Aitchison – Labour’s ultra-left candidate in the marginal seat of Pudsey – made no reference to derogatory remarks that she has made about the Royal family and Waitrose shoppers in the past.

Curiously the leaflet also omitted party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Is it because she, too, is losing faith in him over Brexit or that he is not sufficiently radical for her liking? Do tell.

AFTER Santander shut its Guiseley branch, it sent customers a list of alternative sites to use. They, too, are now in the process of being closed and Adam Bishop, Head of Branch Interactions, has written another missive naming the areas – even further afield – where the bank intends to stay. For how long? Perhaps it would be better placed to sustain a network if it wasn’t sponsoring or subsidising Formula One motor racing and Champions League football.

I THOUGHT Nick Robinson was beyond the patronising twaddle that he spoke on Radio 4’s Today programme when interviewing Yorkshire shepherdess Amanda Owen about the weather. Taken aback when she said it was minus 10 and there was “nothing to complain about really”, he asked: “You are high up there, aren’t you?” Yes Nick, it’s Swaledale, and people here are made of sterner stuff than BBC wimps in London.

NO wonder Britain is a laughing stock when it comes to foreign languages. Former champion jump jockey Richard Dunwoody, of West Tip and Desert Orchid fame, has moved to Madrid where his daughter is already learning English, Spanish – and Mandarin. She is only three. It says it all.

MEANWHILE the mystery over the Queen’s decision to name a racehorse No Trumps deepens. Asked if Her Majesty’s choice was a mischievous way of signalling dissent over a forthcoming state visit by the President of the United States, and his wife, trainer Charlie Longsdon tells me: “She’s very opinionated but doesn’t like to let on.” Intriguing.