Grant Shapps’s rail-strike blame game joins fellow ministers’ absurdities in a vision of Tory Wonderland

“A vision of Labour’s Britain”, tweeted the reliably dim Tory backbencher Mark Jenkinson. This was about the rail strikes. Someone should let him know that there’s been a Tory government for the last 12 years. Who knows, maybe Dopey Mark will find a food bank in his own constituency and blame the opposition for that too. If only Labour had done more to have got elected in 2010, 2015, 2017, 2019 (delete where necessary) then there wouldn’t be so many people living in poverty.

There again, maybe one shouldn’t be too harsh on Dopey Mark. After all, many in the cabinet are also suffering from similar delusions. Not least Grant Shapps, who had been sent out on to the airwaves to say that the strikes were everybody else’s fault but his own. When he found out who the transport secretary was he was going to give him a piece of his mind. It was totally irresponsible for Labour to have allowed the strikes to go ahead … Er.

Shapps had been at his insufferable worst – for comparison, Michael Gove has to take a line of coke to be that awful – during the previous day’s Commons statement, and he was just as bad today. Not just pleased with himself, but absolutely delighted with himself. Smuggy McSmugFace. He too still somehow believes that forcing the unions into days of planned strikes is going to play out well for the Tories. That people won’t say to themselves that it would have been far better if the employers – which includes the government – could have reached a resolution before the unions called for industrial action.

So what we got was more of the same. It wasn’t the transport secretary’s job to try to settle transport disputes. But just suppose it was, then he would have been happy to get stuck in if there had only been a one in a million chance of helping. Shame no one told him that Network Rail had said they came within a whisker of an 11th-hour settlement. Presumably, they wouldn’t have got that close if Grant had been involved. No situation he can’t make worse etc … Maybe he’s more self-aware than he looks.

The transport secretary did have more to say on changing the law to get agency workers to deputise for striking rail workers at some point in the future. Though as ever he didn’t seem to have totally thought this one through. “This is your train driver speaking. This is the first time I’ve ever done the London to Manchester route and I’m only on the minimum wage. And no one else on the train or in the control centre has a clue what they are doing either. So please bear with us. We’ll do our best to get you close to your destination, but if we get lost or have an accident, please don’t get angry. Thank you for your forbearance.”

Boris Johnson was also struggling to make his message clear. First he was adamant that public sector workers had to show pay restraint – only a few weeks ago he had been all in favour of a high-wage economy and had fallen out with the governor of the Bank of England for contradicting him – then moments later he was in favour of changing the law to allow huge bonuses for those working in the financial services industries.

Let’s think this one through. Public-sector workers have to take an effective pay cut but bankers are free to earn billions of pounds more. This must be the levelling up agenda taking shape. The Convict was quick to confirm this. It was so overseas financial institutions could make the most of Brexit. And there was I thinking that the whole point of Brexit was to benefit the UK. Silly me.

To add to the confusion, Johnson went on to announce that from next year, old people would get an increase in their pension in line with inflation. This was mind-bending stuff. So when rail workers asked for a pay increase in line with inflation, the country was being held to ransom by “union barons”. But pensioners were just fine for an 11% pay rise. It’s almost as if one part of government doesn’t have a clue what the other is doing. The Convict is just making policy up on the hoof. And the rest of the country is in an abusive relationship with him.

Over in the Commons, Liz Truss was also struggling with reality during Foreign Office questions. No more so than when Labour’s Hilary Benn asked her how she could plead “grave necessity” as a defence of breaking international law when it had been her government that had freely negotiated the Northern Ireland protocol only a couple of years previously.

It was like this, she said. Taking herself extremely seriously – far more so than anyone else in Westminster – has its advantages on these occasions. It means she can keep a straight face. Others would struggle with such doggy. Then maybe she isn’t capable of distinguishing between truth and fantasy. One wonders.

But in LizWorld she was both breaking and not breaking international law, and was entitled to do as she pleased because the EU had made the cardinal error of observing the treaty in its entirety. In any case, something needed to be done because the protocol was in conflict with the Good Friday agreement. That was odd, said Benn, because the Convict had said it was in “perfect conformity” with the GFA.

What wasn’t asked was how Truss discharged her ministerial responsibility to use her position to try to blag a job for a lover. Wasn’t that one of the Convict’s responsibilities when he was foreign secretary? It would be one of the few parts of the job he really put any effort into, by all accounts. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe could rot in jail, but Carrie must be found a job. Pronto. Though weirdly, not one of the minimum-wage ones into which Johnson spends so much time trying to steer the rest of us. Bet he wishes Carrie had trained as an agency train driver now. Still, it’s only a matter of time till he appoints her as his new ethics adviser.


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