Like any workplace, the nicknaming of colleagues in Westminster is routine. Some show affection and respect, others serve as reminders of a former public gaff, long ago committed, never quite scrubbed out. Whilst there use is commonplace, rarely do these revealing sobriquets – often backstabbingly brilliant in their creation – leave the confines of Parliament’s four walls.
You can be sure then that when one does, the individual in question has a particularly strong reputation. That, in the case of Chris ‘Failing Grayling’, is of sheer, unbridled incompetence. Synonymous with almighty cock-ups, his name provokes amusement, tinged with a sense of genuine bewilderment, bordering on awe, among colleagues – just how has this man survived in government so long?
Leaving a wreckage of failure in his wake wherever he goes, Grayling’s latest double whammy should come as no surprise. First, the National Audit Office’s scathing report of his reforms to the probation service whilst Justice Secretary, and second, the announcement that the Government has forked out £33 million to settle a court case with Eurotunnel following his recent Brexit ferry contract. As Politics Home were quick to point out, taken together, that’s half a billion pounds of taxpayer money.
From his unlawful and deeply misguided book ban in prisons, to the chaos wrought on millions of rail passengers last May, and more recently, the awarding of a lucrative ferry contract to a company that, oddly enough, doesn’t own any ferries, calamity sticks to Grayling as sure as night follows day.
Michael Gove spent his entire tenure at the Ministry of Justice trying to undo the damage his immediate predecessor’s reforms ushered in, and their impacts are still being acutely felt across the sector now. Good luck to whichever sorry soul replaces him at the Department for Transport.
Whilst it’s easy to laugh, these monumental blunders should be of real concern, both to us, the public, and indeed the Government. This is the man in charge of massively important and costly infrastructure projects like the Heathrow expansion and HS2, not to mention some of the most technical, complex aspects of our withdrawal from the EU. The conundrum of how we avoid fruit and veg shipped in from the continent rotting in our ports remains unanswered, quelle surprise.
Politicians don’t make mistakes intentionally, and no one sets out to do a bad job. It can be all too easy to end up on the ministerial rubbish heap through no fault of your own, and certain clangers can undoubtedly be assigned to pure bad luck. A consistent litany of errors though, I’m not so sure.
At times, it would be easy to feel sorry for someone so patently out of their depth. But then I remember that Chris Grayling put himself in this position, and that it is either his ignorance, hubris or pride that against all odds, keeps him there. Without that toxic cocktail, he would have done the nation a favour long ago and stepped down from government, something he should do now.
Whilst he continues to have the confidence of No10, he certainly doesn’t have the public’s. That Theresa May chose him as her campaign manager during the 2016 leadership contest says as much about her judgement as it does his.