CHRIS GRAYLING did himself no favours when he mishandled the official announcement that the East Coast Main Line was effectively being renationalised following the collapse of the Stagecoach and Virgin franchise – details emerged on Twitter before MPs were informed.
The Transport Secretary found himself rebuked by John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, after his department failed to fully brief his Labour counterparts in advance about his plans so they could be properly scrutinised. Very rarely do Ministers breach this courtesy.
Mr Grayling – and the Government front bench – were further accused of bringing Parliament into disrepute by breaking convention and making the announcement on a designated Opposition Day when Labour was permitted to control the Commons agenda.
And he was mocked after concluding that Stagecoach and Virgin should not forego the right to run other rail franchises after reneging upon a £3.3bn deal agreed in 2015. As Don Valley MP Caroline Flint said, they undercut their competitors and should be sanctioned accordingly.
Though Mr Grayling’s disdainfulness is not new – this newspaper frequently highlights his contempt for travellers – it’s rare for the Speaker, or others, to be so critical.
This is the third time that the East Coast franchise has collapsed in recent times and it is clear that there needs to be a major review of the whole tender process – passengers across Britain are paying higher fares for a sub-standard service.
Yet, while Mr Grayling appears to have taken the most pragmatic route open to him by paving the way for the return of the historic London and North Eastern Railway, the Transport Secretary’s track record is such that few trust him to come up a long-term structure that does justice to the iconic LNER brand, which was one of the great rail companies of its day.