Wednesday, 14 December 2016
The Useless Meddler
Kevin Maguire writes:
Tory Fat Controller Chris "The Jackal" Grayling's doing to our railway network what he did to Britain's prisons with pettifogging bans on books and guitars.
His reactionary drive to turn back the clock to an era when we were meant to know our station and doff our caps to supposed betters is matched only by a grotesque incompetence which makes Grayling hotly tipped to be the first Cabinet Minister sacked by Theresa May.
Grayling's successor as Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, immediately reversed the daftest of the useless meddler's interventions and I dare say the next Transport Secretary will go down the same route.
Because hundreds of thousands of train travellers inconvenienced by today's standstill on Southern lines to the north and south of London will be cursing the name of colourless Grey-ling.
To be fair, he inherited the industrial dispute but to be fairer to commuters is to acknowledge the Conservative Fat Controller's intensified disruption, with drivers in the Aslef union joining guards in the RMT fighting changes to staffing and safety propelled by the Transport Department.
Grayling muttering like a top-hatted relic from the Victoria era that he wants to ban industrial action he fanned with the crassness of an ideological zealot out of his depth and time is a railway baron incapable of recognising he's part of the problem, not the solution.
Long-suffering commuters forced to pay a small ransom to stand from terminals such as Brighton on Southern's hideously expensive, unreliable, uncomfortable cattle trucks know the service operated by the Govia privatised franchise and Grayling's ministry is often pathetic even when every driver and guard turns up for work.
So the orchestrated abuse directed at workers and unions by bonehead Grayling and Tory MPs achieves little traction, despite the best efforts of the Tory press to pretend we're back in the 19th Century.
Passengers unable to get to work are victims of the Tory Transport Department and its Govia puppet deliberately picking a confrontation to ditch staff and reduce wages – in the long run not just on Southern but across the rail system.
Headlines shouting Aslef threatened 10 years of industrial action are inaccurate, based on a contentious letter he sent to MPs.
The real story is Grayling set out to provoke a showdown, however long it took, and Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan, a man considerably more thoughtful than the Tory provocateur, warned him of the consequences.
Who opens and shuts doors is far from the full picture when the intention is, as I heard Govia bosses admit to disinterested Tory MPs who prefer union bashing to understanding issues, to reduce the safety skills and training of guards or conductors or whatever they'll be called, then run trains without them.
Rail workers don't want to lose wages before Christmas and possess an immeasurably greater interest in a thriving rail industry than the here today, gone tomorrow, Chris Grayling.
Twitchy Grayling, on the other hand, has a history of macho political posturing illustrated by prodding Govia to pursue fruitless legal action – the unions successfully jumped through every hoop of Britain's draconian strike laws – in what proved a disaster for commuters.
Going to the courts instead of the conciliation service Acas was a stupid move which only further undermined badly eroded trust.
Thirty years of covering industrial disputes teaches me two sides must be prepared to talk and compromise to reach a settlement.
I'm not sure Grayling's interested.
Until he got lucky in backing Theresa May as Tory leader, Grayling was in the finger tip club and on the verge of the sack from the Cabinet.
Muzzling the Jackal now would be an early Christmas gift for Southern passengers.