Tom Richmond: Now Gove and Defra are struck down by Grayling malaise

I SENSE a new political condition that is becoming very corrosive. It's been diagnosed as Failingraylingitis by Dr Richmond and it's becoming contagious, particularly in Whitehall.

Michael Gove's non-response to a recent letter on Leeds flood defences is under fire.

Weeks after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was exposed for taking more than 120 days to respond to letters from North East MPs, Environment Secretary Michael Gove appears to be falling victim to this malaise despite being one of the more courteous ministers.

He was sent a very polite letter on January 25 by Leeds MP Rachel Reeves seeking a meeting about the need for an urgent Government decision on the size and scope of city’s planned flood defences. It was signed by Tory and Labour MPs from the city as well as business and council leaders.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Defra’s response? Not even an acknowledgement to Reeves who told me this week: “Since we wrote to Michael Gove, my constant requests to his department for a meeting have gone completely unanswered. No one will even commit to just having a discussion about the scheme.”

To her credit, the chair of Parliament’s business select committee did raise the issue at Treasury questions with Chancellor Philip Hammond who has promised to get a response on the Government’s behalf.

But that is not the point. Elected MPs used to be routinely treated with far more respect by Cabinet ministers and the original letter, suggesting how the natural environment could be used to reduce the risk of a repeat of the devastating floods experienced in December 2015, correlates with Gove’s agenda.

And, while Defra has confirmed that a response is being drafted on behalf of Mr Gove’s deputy Thérèse Coffey, this is not good enough and suggests Gove – and others – are so pre-occupied with Brexit battles that they’ve insufficient time for the home front.

To counter another outbreak of Failingraylingitis, I suggest Ministers be ordered to acknowledge letters from MPs within five days of receipt; provide an interim response within a fortnight and a full reply within 28 days.

It’s a reasonable request so let’s see if their response to this column meets this criteria. I suspect it won’t.

THE criticism of Sir John Major and Tony Blair over their respective Brexit interventions is totally misjudged. Both former prime ministers need no lectures on the complexities of Northern Ireland’s future border arrangements with the EU.

They had to deal with the bloodshed caused by the Troubles. They received the terrifying security briefings. And they worked tirelessly, in their own ways, to bring about the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago. Both deserve respect from Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

FOR once, there were very few leaks when Theresa May took her senior ministers to Chequers for a Brexit away day.

Why? Those present had their mobile phones confiscated on arrival. The reason? So they couldn’t send disparaging comments about colleagues to their aides who, in turn, would leak the tittle-tattle to the media. And these are the statesmen supposedly in charge of running the country...

A DAY after I took Chris Grayling to task – again – for snubbing a Commons debate and other serial failings, he confirmed £3bn has been ring-fenced for improvements to the TransPennine rail route.

However there are no specifics, other than a commitment that the plans will develop “in lockstep” with Crossrail 2 – a second state-of-the-art railway that will cross London. Yet the £3bn is a fraction of the estimated £30bn cost of Crossrail 2.

Just saying...

FOR the record, Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara did manage to take part in four Commons votes last month. Yet, having promised in January to be a full-time MP, he’s still to make his maiden speech.

Why not? Tuesday’s sparsely-attended debate on transport spending was another opportunity where he could have spoken up on behalf of his increasingly bemused and disillusioned constituents who deserve better.

FULL marks to Speaker John Bercow for intervening when Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss, in response to questions about council tax increases, tried to blame Labour profligacy.

“You do not waste the time of the House by launching into ​rants about the policies of other parties,” he told her. Hear, hear. If she had command of her brief, which she doesn’t, the power of a principled argument would win the day.

I UNDERSTAND why Virgin Media cold calls customers and offer deals that appear, at face value, to be too good to true. What I don’t understand is the company’s refusal to put the terms and conditions in writing. Surely consumers are entitled to see the small print before entering into a contract?

THIS week’s cold weather has left London-based broadcasters in a flap in their warm studios. It was illustrated by this piercing insight from Sky News anchor Kay Burley as the capital shivered: “Normally it’s very cold further North.” Come and find out for yourself Kay – you might learn something.

TALKING of the cold, there’s been no warm weather training for triathlete Jonathan Brownlee as he, and older brother Alistair, prepare for the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s sun-kissed Gold Coast. The younger Brownlee has been training on a static bike in his conservatory surrounded by fan heaters pumping out warm air to replicate the conditions that he’ll encounter next month. Ingenious.