This article was published in Ceylon Today on February 4 2019
What Me Worry?
In many fields of endeavour and employment, incompetence seems to be rewarded. Bankers who contributed to the 2008 crash were not thrown into gaol but carried on receiving their ill-gotten bonuses. There are many incompetents in the current (as of time of writing) UK government but one who has never ceased to astound is the Secretary of State for Transport, Christopher Grayling. Whenever he appears on TV his smiling vacuous moon-face makes one just want to hug him. He calls to mind many other characters real and mythical.
His calmly reassuring aura while all turns to shit around him reminds me of Alfred E Neumann, the fictitious mascot and cover boy of the American humour magazine Mad of the 1950s and 60s. There was once available a rubber mask in Neumann’s likeness with “idiot” written underneath along with his signature phrase “What, me worry!” Neuman has from time-to-time been presented as a candidate for President with the slogan, “You could do worse… and always have!” His face has often appeared in political cartoons as a shorthand for unquestioning stupidity.
Prospering in an Insane World
Another character Grayling brings to my mind is Aarfy in Catch 22. Captain “Aarfy” Aardvark is the plump navigator in Yossarian’s B-52, noted for being oblivious to incoming flak, getting lost on missions, and getting in Yossarian’s way when he is trying to get back to the escape hatch. No matter how loud Yossarian shouts, Aarfy never can hear him. He nearly gets himself and his comrades killed several times while getting lost on mission. Aarfy is so heedless of his own personal safety and the well-being of others that it always astounds him when others become angry with him. Aarfy’s character exemplifies the perversity of a society and culture governed by Catch-22s that ultimately serve to protect the powerful. No matter how hard Yossarian punches him, his fat absorbs the blows and he never personally suffers any negative consequences for his lack of awareness and, indeed, his own insanity helps him to survive and prosper in an insane world.
Grayling is more inane than insane, and he is a member of the inane asylum that is Theresa May’s Conservative Party which rewards incompetence. Grayling’s smile hovers like the Cheshire Cat’s above all the madness.
Commuters shivering on railway platforms contemplating the latest hike in rail fares and wondering if a train is ever going to materialize were cheered up immensely by the tale of no-tendering relating to Seaborne Freight. It was quietly announced on Christmas Eve that a new ferry service would operate out of Ramsgate to relieve pressure on the port of Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The government would pay Seaborne Freight to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to Ostend, beginning with two ships in late March and increasing to four by the end of the summer. A spokesman for the company said: “It was intended to start the service in mid-February but this has now been delayed until late March for operational reasons.” “Operational reasons” is one of those cant phrases that people often hear when their train does not turn up.
No Deal No Boats Pizzas
Ramsgate Councillor Paul Messenger brought a discomforting message about Seaborne Freight. It had never been seaborne, it had never carried freight and it had no ships: “It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done? Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history”. Further hilarity ensued when someone got hold of Seaborne Freight’s terms and conditions. It seemed that the firm had cut and pasted from the website of a pizza delivery company: customers were advised to check goods before “agreeing to pay for any meal/order”. “Delivery charges are calculated per order and based on [delivery details here]. Any delivery charges will be displayed clearly in your order summary,”
No Need to Answer
Hilarity gave way to anger when the matter of awarding the contract came before a Commons select committee. SNP MP Joanna Berry wanted to know why the contract was awarded under emergency provisions citing “unforeseeable events” when plans were supposed to have been made long ago. As he was himself exhausted after failing to answer questions in the House, Grayling sent a minion robot along to the committee. The robot was Christopher Heaton-Harris (one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s chums). A simple question was put to him countless times and he robotically refused to answer. “A range of operators were invited to tender and the correct due diligence was done to fulfill the plans that we require.” It seems that Seaborne was the only bidder. Its chief executive previously ran a ship chartering business that was forced into liquidation following court petitions from HM Revenue and Customs. The former company had a total of £1.78 million in unpaid debts.
Watch Heaton-Harris’s performance on YouTube and you will see the British government’s utter contempt for Parliament and the British people. We don’t care what you think and we don’t need to answer to you. Eddie Mair has a show on LBC radio. The show has a pot called the Chris Grayling Jar of Truth. Mair puts a pound in the pot every day that Grayling doesn’t answer his question about Seaborne Freight.
High Speed to Nowhere
Grayling has had too many failures to mention in relation to the high-speed train project, HS2. One that is particularly inexplicable on the same level as the NoBoatyMcNoBoaty Face farrago is that when everyone knew that the outsourcing firm Carillion had overreached and was in deep trouble, he still handed the company taxpayers’ money. Their profit warning should have given him a clue. What kind of half-wit gives £1.4 billion of taxpayers’ money to a company days AFTER it has issued a profit warning? Carillion shares slumped by 70% in a month as it was forced into the profit warning following an £845m write-down. There were calls for Grayling to resign but he continued bobbing along, smiling serenely in an Aarfy manner.
Space has not been available here to cover Grayling’s triumphs in other ministerial jobs. Particularly egregious is the way that he has, in association with private outsourcing firms, ruined the probation service and put the British public at risk of harm.