Paula Sherriff: Why '˜failing' Chris Grayling must resign over chaos on the railways

TODAY, I called on Chris Grayling to stand down.

Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff has demanded the resignation of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff has demanded the resignation of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

In a government which has been happy to let our northern towns, villages and cities fall behind for the past eight years, no one has rolled their eyes at us up here in the North more than this Tory Transport Secretary.

The failure of Virgin East Coast and Chris Grayling’s handling of it shows this government at its most self-serving worst – looking after their rich friends in big business, whilst people across the country are left to pick up the pieces.

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The Tories can always find the money to bail out their friends in the big corporations like Virgin, whilst they consistently refuse to provide the change that is desperately required to help increasingly frustrated railway passengers like the ones who email my office every day.

I’ve long been a supporter of putting our country’s railways back into public hands. Giving power and control to passengers is the only pragmatic solution left because the utter failure of the franchise system is there for all to see.

However, with his accidental renationalisation, Mr Grayling has sent out a clear message to big business: under the Tories, no matter how badly your business is doing, don’t worry because the tax payer can look after you.

The public are paying these big train companies more and more of their hard-earned money in exchange for a shoddier and shoddier service.

Our railways are in a significantly worse state than they were in 2010. Things have become so bad that the public now firmly believe that something has got to give – in fact 76 per cent of the public and 90 per cent of Virgin East coast staff agree with renationalisation of the railways.

The Conservatives sold off the railways 25 years ago. Their project has been such a deep, unmitigated disaster that the public are now willing to try something different.

The public are also fed up of an arrogant Secretary of State telling them on the news and in the papers that their experiences of travelling by train – overpriced, late, old, rickety, packed in like sardines – are somehow not accurate and somehow not the real picture.

But every week that Chris Grayling remains in his position is yet another week in which mistrust in his department and this government grows deeper and deeper, with grand promises to improve the daily commute for people in Yorkshire being made in one breath, only for him to turn his back on northerners in another.

This is the same Chris Grayling who said in 2006 while he was in opposition that “it’s a bit of a cheek for an MP sitting on the government benches to lecture and question us on rail investment when the Government have made so many promises that they have failed to deliver”.

But then we don’t have to go back 12 years with flip-flop Grayling. Nationalisation is “an expensive, reckless idea” he said in 2016. He called it Venezuelan in 2017. Then he said this last January that “we must never forget how badly nationalisation failed key public services”.

Now, just four months later, he talks of his excitement at bringing back one of Britain’s most “iconic” state-run brands.

The chickens really have come home to roost.

It seems that Mr Grayling is happy to change his mind on nationalisation when nationalisation becomes a means of bailing out companies like Virgin.

In Yorkshire, we have grown accustomed to being put to the back of the queue by this government and by Chris Grayling in particular.

Last summer, we had the downgrade of Crossrail for the North, whilst the following week, he found the money to support the £31.2bn budget for Crossrail 2 in London.

We have had Yorkshire hit with a five per cent fare increase – the biggest increase of anywhere in the country.

In this newspaper, he told commuters in Yorkshire that they receive more transport funding than the south. This is, if through a rather imaginative calculation, we ignore London.

Myself and Labour colleagues have tried time and time again to make the demands for a fairer deal only for Mr Grayling to turn his back on Northern commuters, ducking and diving meetings with MPs like myself who wanted to raise the sheer number of constituent concerns that we receive about our region’s rail network.

Even just this week, we saw new timetables cause complete meltdown and misery across the region, with barely an eyebrow raised in Westminster or by the London-based media.

His record is now rounded off by an accidental nationalisation of the East Coast Main Line.

With a record like this, surely the buck has to stop somewhere. It must surely be time for Failing Chris Grayling to go.

Labour stands ready to transform our country’s railways for the better, putting passengers before the might of the big train companies.

People in Yorkshire and across the North are crying out for an affordable, comfortable, reliable railway. That surely isn’t too much to ask for.

Paula Sherriff is the Labour MP for Dewsbury.