Tom Richmond: No end to the elusive Chris Grayling’s contempt of MPs – and the North

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling
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ANOTHER week – and another rebuke – for Transport Secretary Chris Grayling over his cavalier disregard of Opposition MPs attempting to raise legitimate questions on behalf of their constituents.

Last year, a joint letter to Mr Grayling from 10 North East MPs went unanswered for over 120 days. This lapse emerged in the now infamous Northern Powerhouse debate that the Macavity-like Minister snubbed.

Last month, Mr Grayling was campaigning in Stoke-on-Trent without informing local MPs. “I was told that no such meeting took place,” complained Labour’s Gareth Snell before pictures emerged of the gathering in question.

Last Friday, Mr Grayling was in Kirklees where he declined to meet Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff whose attempts to have a meeting with transport ministers had been left in limbo since last month’s reshuffle.

“I asked on a number of occasions via his office to meet him, but I was refused and told that he would meet only Conservative members and activists,” Ms Sherriff told the Commons.

“Those members have since indicated on social media that they discussed the very two issues I wished to discuss with the Secretary of State. I now understand that members of the public were also present at those meetings – something for which there is photographic evidence.”

Though Speaker John Bercow said there was a difference between a political meeting and an official Ministerial visit, he’s clearly getting irritated.

He turned to the Transport Secretary and told him: “All that said, I think that this place works best when there is a basic courtesy and respect from one Member to another.” Hear, hear.

Meekly, Mr Grayling said a meeting will now be organised. He also assured Ms Sherriff: “I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities for the Hon. Lady to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Would it be possible to have a meeting?’ There has been a reshuffle.”

Too late. If Mr Grayling was any kind of statesman, his failing department would be run with more professionalism so that MPs did not have to interrupt Commons proceedings to hold him to account.

For, if he can’t run his office efficiently, what chance does the country have of the trains running on time, due process being followed on the electrification of this region’s railways, proper investment in the North and the East Coast franchise running smoothy following the financial collapse of the Stagecoach / Virgin deal?

WATCHING the BBC’s Daily Politics, I lost count of the number of occasions that political editor Laura Kuenssberg used the phrase ‘I think’.

It’s the same with her reports on the evening news – she keeps referring to ‘senior sources’ informing her of this and that. Who are these people?

In a report on Wednesday on Brexit, she used the description ‘A Number 10 insider told me’ as the basis of her piece to camera. It could have been anyone from the head of the Civil Service to Larry the cat.

Her predecessors – great names like John Cole, Robin Oakley and Nick Robinson – rarely used such phraseology because they reported so authoritatively.

Ms Kuennssberg, however, seems to be on a one-woman crusade to bring down Theresa May after her insulting questioning of the Prime Minister in China. So much for BBC impartiality.

SHAME on Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss for not paying attention at PMQs when Tory disability campaigner Robert Halfon asked Theresa May about the possibility of eradicating hospital parking charges, a serious concern for many.

Instead Ms Truss was sharing a joke with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson before posting a tweet praising the Prime Minister’s response to Leeds MP Hilary Benn over free trade. “PM socks it to Hilary Benn,” she posted. Maybe, but Ms Truss – supposedly in charge of public finances – might have learned something about NHS hardship if she had had the courtesy to listen to her colleagues.

WHEN Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn paid a (very) rare compliment to Shipley MP Philip Davies at Prime Minister’s Questions in exchanges over police funding, the Yorkshireman gave the thumbs-up.

What the TV pictures did not show – regrettably – was the reaction of Mr Davies when beckoned by Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, to join the Labour front bench.

THIS week’s 60th anniversary of the Munich disaster has, understandably, prompted many poignant tributes about Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’.

Yet it is clear, reading Patrick Barclay’s biography of Sir Matt Busby, that 
the manager’s penchant for remembering names was one of his greatest strengths.

After the team’s 1968 European Cup triumph, centre half Bill Foulkes was apologetic when his older brother, Eric, joined the post-match celebrations at Wembley. Busby did not mind.

Imagine his surprise when at an event nine years later Busby spotted the interloper, wandered up and said: “Hello Eric, how are you?”

It’s a tip Busby gleaned from his dealings with General Montgomery during the war. After meeting at Wembley in 1944, the Army leader said he’d never been to Scotland.

When they were subsequently introduced at a football international at Hampden Park, Montgomery replied: “You see, Sergeant-Major – I have managed to get to Scotland.”

As Barclay writes: “Busby cherished the memory. He also absorbed Montgomery’s common touch; such disarming attention to human detail would be a constant company on his journey into football management.”

Many in politics, and public life, would be advised to heed this tactic.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk