The Rail Minister has resigned just two days after telling MPs that she did not plan to quit in a House of Commons debate about the troubled Southern train service.
Claire Perry told fellow MPs on Wednesday (13 July): “If I thought it would help by me falling on my sword, I would. I have thought about it repeatedly. I do not like failure. I do not fail at stuff in my life. This feels like a failure.”
As yet she has not published a resignation letter and it is not clear whether she jumped before being pushed as the new Prime Minister Theresa May appoints her new government.
Mrs May has given the job of Transport Secretary to Chris Grayling, formerly the Leader of the House of Commons and previously Justice Secretary.
When the Tories were in opposition, one of Mr Grayling’s jobs was Shadow Transport Secretary. He also sat for about a year on a select committee scrutinising transport policy.
In the run up to the referendum last month Mr Grayling campaigned to leave the European Union, unlike Mrs May. Then, when David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister, Mr Grayling became Mrs May’s leadership campaign manager.
The former Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has become Conservative Party chairman.
The Labour MP for Hove, Peter Kyle, welcomed her departure. He attended the debate on the performance of Southern’s owner, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), in Westminster Hall on Wednesday.
He was also at the first meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) that he set up with Mid Sussex Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames to monitor GTR’s performance.
Mr Kyle said: “I think it’s best all round that Claire moves on.
“It’s clear that passengers have lost faith in her ability to get the job done and the fact she resigned tells me that she was finding it impossible to galvanise government behind the kind of plans we desperately need.
“Let’s get a new minister who I will invite to meet the APPG as soon as Parliament returns in September in order to get things moving.”
At a heated meeting in Seaford last night a GTR manager indicated that the emergency timetable may continue for longer than expected.
The news was met with an angry response from passengers. They had expected the reduced service to be operated for about four weeks.
The meeting was organised by Maria Caulfield, the Conservative MP for Lewes, who lives in Woodingdean and used to be a member of Brighton and Hove City Council.
While the modernisation of London Bridge has caused a series of problems, the latest deterioration in service has come about during the dispute between train company and guards.
The company wants the doors on its new trains to be driver-operated, doing away with the guards’ role.
The RMT has called the move unsafe but GTR said that the system works well already on much of the network.
The union has called four days of strikes and sickness rates have risen. Services have been hit as Southern relies on voluntary overtime rather than employing enough staff to cover every shift.
Meanwhile, the company has promised not to cut jobs. Instead, it said that guards will become onboard supervisors, spending more time dealing with passengers.
New recruits to the onboard supervisor role will be expected to sell tickets or give penalties to passengers without tickets – earning part of their pay through commission.
And if there is no onboard supervisor, trains will not be need to be cancelled, unlike now when they cannot run without a guard.
Southern said that this would be better for customers all round. Having won a High Court case against the train drivers’ union ASLEF, the company now intends to impose contracts to change the role of guards towards the end of August despite opposition from the RMT.
There have been indications that while the government is reluctant to end its franchise agreement with GTR, it may in the longer term hand the route from Brighton over to Transport for London. TfL is the responsibility of Sadiq Khan, recently elected mayor.
— Michael Taggart (@michael_taggart) 15 July 2016