Apparently Chris “Failing” Grayling dislikes the lazy rhyming nickname he first picked up at school in High Wycombe – and which has, quite unaccountably, stuck to him throughout his famously successful ministerial career.
A succession of botched reforms to the probation service and courts, a few major crises on the railways, and his award of a Brexit ferry contract to a firm with, erm, no ferries have somehow failed to alter the perception of the man. Planned relaunches as Chris “Effective” Grayling, Chris “Master of the Whitehall Machine” Grayling or Chris “Bullet Train” Grayling never took off. Some of his own colleagues on the Conservative benches are rumoured – purely out of jealousy, no doubt – to have misgivings about his judgement.
The ferry fiasco, for example, cost taxpayers at least £33m because of the way it was mishandled by the then transport secretary, true enough, yet no-one seems to want to give him any thanks for what he has achieved for Britain. After all, he was Theresa May’s leadership campaign manager, you know (though it’s fair to add that after her rivals rapidly imploded there wasn’t much of an actual campaign left for Chris to mismanage, and with no other candidates she was going to win).
Will the facile mockery of this dedicated public servant never end? Will the mystery of why “Failing” Grayling was mysteriously returned to the backbenches ever be solved? What shadowy forces are at work?
Now we learn that Grayling is going to be put in charge of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee. This body meets in secret and oversees the most sensitive activities of our spies. It is vital to the pursuit of British interests at home and abroad. Our intelligence agencies are engaged in a struggle against deadly terrorists at home and abroad; rogue states equipped with chemical and other weapons of mass destruction; superpowers such as China intent on extending their technological hegemony; and the various formal and informal arms of the Russian secret services and the fun the FSB like to have with Novichok and our elections.
Ah yes, those Russians. Their role in the Brexit referendum and our democracy has not always maybe been neutral and supportive.
The Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry on the various allegations of Russian interference, or attempted interference in UK politics was begun in November 2017 and the completed report passed to Boris Johnson last October. Since then, Johnson has used every delaying tactic possible to prevent its publication, short of pleading that Dilyn the dog had eaten the MPs’ homework.
Maybe trying to use his influence to persuade Tory MPs to back Grayling as chair of the committee was just another way of wasting time, confident as Johnson would have been that it would take a long, long campaign of chats on the tea rooms and bars to persuade even the most partisan Conservative that Mr Failing was ideally qualified for the job of looking after national security?
There’s an old joke about military intelligence being an oxymoron that springs to mind in the context of Chris Grayling in control of our official secrets.