Why hasn’t Chris Grayling resigned?

A terrifying Grayling-head at a protest when he was justice secretary. Image: Getty.

Why hasn’t Chris Grayling resigned? Or perhaps I should say – why hasn’t Chris Grayling resigned yet?

I mean, he definitely should have done, shouldn’t he? In a less shameless age, when presiding over multiple crises in different parts of the country was enough to finish a ministerial career, Grayling would have been toast months ago. 

Yet while there’s no end in sight for the crises on Northern Rail or Thameslink, there’s no end in sight for the transport secretary’s career, either. Weeks ago now, Grayling was accused of “personally propping up” failing rail franchises, but Grayling didn’t resign. Twenty-five northern newspapers run the same front page, calling for action on the region’s rail crisis – but Grayling didn’t resign. Grayling told Parliament he’s “not a specialist in rail matters” – and what happened next will astound you.

Last night Northern leaders called for Chris Grayling to resign, and while it’s early days, I think that – unlike Northern passengers – we can all make a pretty good guess at where this thing is going.

So, how has he done it? Why is this man still clinging to the government like an unusually incompetent barnacle? Here are some theories.

1. He never resigns

When Grayling was justice secretary, he tried to ban books from prisons and alienated the entire legal profession, and his main achievement was accidentally rehabilitating the career of his successor, Michael Gove. He didn’t resign.

Early in his tenure as transport secretary, footage emerged of Grayling knocking a cyclist off their bike and then lecturing them for it. He didn’t resign then, either.

Why break the habit of a lifetime?

2. No one knows who he is

Unlike many ministers at his level, Chris Grayling has never really sought the limelight – no wide-ranging speeches hinting at grander ambitions, no thundering op-eds in the Telegraph about his vision for remaking Britain. He is, by the standards of these things, a quiet soul.

So, in the nicest possible way, perhaps he’s not under pressure to resign because the general public don’t actually know who he is. I mean, there are a lot of bald white men in the Cabinet, aren’t there?

3. He’s a Brexiteer

Since Theresa May’s government took office, those ministers that have been forced to resign over their discretions (Michael Fallon, Damian Green) have tended to be Remainers. Those who survived major transgressions, to resign on their own timetable (David Davis, Boris Johnson) or continue hanging around like a bad smell (Liam Fox) have tended to be Leavers.

This isn’t a flawless system – Priti Patel managed to do something so stupid that she was sacked, despite being a Leaver. But it seems fairly clear that supporting Brexit is a fairly helpful prop to a floundering minister.

4. He’s a political ally of Theresa May

Though perhaps this is a more helpful prop still. Grayling ran Theresa May’s leadership campaign and is one of the few loyal courtiers she has round the Cabinet table. Perhaps this, more than his views on Brexit or his abject incompetence, is the main factor in her mind when deciding whether to keep him around.

Last month, the Mirror reported: “Chris Grayling almost quit the Cabinet but Theresa May would not let him go”. So, perhaps it isn’t his decision. Perhaps, Theresa May is torturing Grayling, just as Grayling is torturing rail passengers.

5. London doesn’t care about the north

The Thameslink mess has settled down, a bit. It’s on Northern where the crisis continues abated.

But thanks to our hilariously London-centric political and media culture, you can pretty much do what you want in the north and the national press will ignore it. And without that echo chamber, the pressure on the transport secretary has stayed limited.

6. The North doesn’t care about railways

Even within the north, rail travel is a minority pursuit: the network is so threadbare that, in contrast to the south east, the vast majority commute by car.

And so, as infuriating as this crisis is to those who are affected by it, they’re small enough in number that the government feels it can ignore them.

Whether it’s correct about this or not is a different question – one to which we’re likely to receive an answer in the event of an early election.

7. The portrait in the attic

Then again, perhaps it’s magic.

Let’s be honest – it’s no less plausible than the fact Grayling is still in office with his record.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.