Chris Grayling, new Secretary of State for Transport, says he’s finally got the job he’s always wanted.
Says the MP for commuter-heavy Epsom and Ewell, ‘This is the job that I’ve always been most interested in doing in government. It’s the area that has been my prime focus for political interest since I arrived in 2001 and joined the Transport Select Committee.’
Grayling went on to become shadow transport secretary before Cameron’s election victory in 2010. Grayling might have crossed the airy portals of
Marsham Street earlier had it not been for the bed and breakfast controversy in March 2010. Faced with the question of same sex couples booking into private B&Bs he said, ‘I took the view that if it’s question of somebody who’s doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn’t come into their own home.
‘If they are running a hotel on the high street, I really don’t think that it is right in this day and age that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away…’
Though it seems mild in retrospect, the ensuing fury meant Grayling was offered no ministerial cabinet post four months later when Cameron and Clegg launched the coalition government. Grayling served in the Department of Work and Pensions. In 2012, he joined the cabinet as Justice Secretary, where he is credited with introducing greater protection for householders defending themselves against violent intruders. Less popular were legal aid reforms.
Grayling is no stranger to controversy. Back in 2006 he admitted that John Major’s privatisation of the railways was flawed and needed re- examining. Although Tony Blair had promised re-nationalisation little had been done. ‘The whole franchise structure at the moment is completely flawed,’ he said in an interview with RailStaff in 2007. ‘It comes down to the changed nature of the role of government. Franchisees are no longer bidding to run a railway business. They are bidding to operate a timetable on behalf of government. The government specifies in minute detail what services run, where, when, how, which stations get a service and which don’t. This is micro-management gone mad.’
FASTER DECISION MAKING
Interestingly he opposed the Eddington Report’s shortcomings on railway infrastructure provision, issued in December 2006. ‘To say we can deal with all our future transport needs on our existing infrastructure I don’t believe is right,’ he said.
Grayling has also long been familiar with the near stasis surrounding decision making. Back in 2007, he said, ‘Do I honestly believe that the current industry structure is capable of delivering faster decision making and better use of its money by operating in a more efficient way?
Actually, I don’t and most people in the industry I speak to say they don’t.’
Happily married with two children Grayling once worked for the BBC and Channel 4 and is familiar with the corporate culture that can bedevil new thinking. A varied career has included running small TV production businesses and a spell at Burson-Marsteller.
Grayling remains a committed supporter of Manchester United, attending home games at Old Trafford.
FOCUS ON THE PASSENGER
For Grayling, railway policy has to focus on service to the passenger. Last month, on taking up his new role, he told rail chiefs, ‘My one message to all of you would be please think in everything you do, every decision you take, every plan you put together…..Is what we’re doing going to make life better for the passenger? Because that fundamentally should drive absolutely every decision we take.
‘If it’s not going to make things better for the passenger then why are we doing it?’