A few thoughts on northern papers ganging up on Grayling…

CROSSRAIL is a major bit of infrastructure in London; it might also be a new compound word to describe how many commuters feel about attempting to travel by rail.

While Crossrail is an undeniably impressive feat of engineering, it is also a symbol to the north of how all the money is spent in London and the south. The project has swallowed up £15bn – a lot of the national quid.

Today newspapers across the north unite in attacking transport secretary Chris Grayling for presiding over the utter chaos of the botched timetable changes that have caused delays and cancellations for thousands.

Before joining that regional throng, let’s just admit there has been timetable chaos in the south, too. While Northern Rail may be cancelling trains all over the northern shop, Govia Thameslink Railway has been holding up its end by causing misery for southern commuters.

And it’s not, strictly speaking, true that the government won’t spend money in the north: just look at all the taxpayers’ millions Mr Grayling is eager to throw at the East Coast line to bail out the failed Virgin/Stagecoach franchise – while also insisting that privatised rail is best (even if it has a bottomless appetite for swallowing public money).

Incidentally, Richard Branson was on the radio the other day explaining how he was training to get fit to go in space. And I couldn’t help but trundle out the obvious insult: you can’t even manage to run trains to York, mate.

So now let’s look at the north, where Northern is said to be cancelling 57% of train journeys – which, as even a maths dunderhead can calculate, is more than half.

The 25 newspapers united in anger today include the Yorkshire Post, the Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo – and even in today’s diminished newspaper landscape, the 25 papers sell between them 300,000 copies per edition.

It is quite something to see rival newspapers coming together, and this reminds us that rather than being fractured in competition, newspapers can occasionally unite on one important issue. And in this case the north is chorusing that Mr Grayling should resign.

One of the many dull mysteries about Mr Grayling is that he ever gets to keep a job in Cabinet (this might be called the Dr Liam Fox equation to indicate those terrible people who foul up but manage to get their foot back in the door).

You may recall that Mr Grayling caused chaos in the prison system during his spell as justice secretary, in part by forcing privatisation on the prison system and cutting staff numbers.

Now he has the national train set to play with – and he seems intent on throwing money at privatised rail, while refusing to heed the concerns of the travelling public.

Yesterday he finally faced MPs, looking – as well he might – a little twitchy and anxious. But Mr Grayling still sang the same old tune from the Bart Simpson hymn book: “It wasn’t me”. As usual, everyone else was to blame for the timetable fiasco – mostly it was Network Rail’s fault, he grumbled.

While this is a national problem, the north has suffered from years of overcrowded trains, cancelled trains, trains that are too short or too hot, routes that are too rubbish by half. How are we still in a situation when it takes almost as long to shake and rattle your way to Manchester from Leeds or York as it does to be swept down to London on the on-off privatised East Coast mainline?

Should Chris Grayling go as the editors of all those northern newspapers are saying this morning? Oh, sure – I’m not about to defend the indefensible Mr Grayling. He can be sacked from that job and any others he might fluke his way into in future as far as I’m concerned.

But will a fresh face – or as fresh a face as the Government can find – really make a difference? Perhaps Mr Grayling should stay and sort out the mess, take the blame and do something, rather than be allowed to slink away muttering: “It wasn’t me.”

As for all those northern newspapers, normally they speak for their smaller region, while dissing the neighbours and rival publishers.

The editors should band together more often: it’s good to hear the north speaking with one voice.

One comment

  1. This reminds me of a daily newspaper called 24, which was intended to serve the North when it was launched by CN Group in June 2016. It largely used Press Association copy and unfortunately it was short-lived.

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