SUPPOSE there was a competition for the most inept and incompetent politician in Britain. There would surely be no shortage of finalists. Early in the week, you might have been tempted to award the wooden spoon to Jeremy Corbyn, a Leader of the Opposition spectacularly lacking in leadership qualities when it comes to actual decision-making rather than speechifying and campaigning. The next obvious recipient was the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, who set out a bellicose vision of the military part played by Britain after Brexit that was so puerile that a former editor of The Times asked if his brain had gone AWOL.
But then there is the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, the man who thought it a good idea to entrust the transport of post-Brexit emergency food and medicine supplies to a ferry company with no ships. In the past, politicians such as this would have been sacked or shamed into resignation; but Brexit has changed everything in our paralysed Parliament.
It is particularly mystifying how Mr Grayling survives, even in our present parallel political universe. Commentators this week catalogued no fewer than 12 governmental fiascos for which he has been responsible — each one overruled by the courts or overturned by his political successors.
Among his débâcles are: railway-timetable chaos; prisoners banned from receiving books; illegal fees for employment tribunals; court fees that push the innocent to plead guilty; cuts in legal aid that penalised domestic-violence victims; a dubious contract with the Saudis; an unworkable prisoner-tagging scheme; and a £200- million system of prison contracts which the present Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart, has declared to be “completely unsustainable”.
Yet for all his bungling Mr Grayling has been moved from job to job more times than a dodgy priest in the charge of a myopic or spineless bishop. But he is a Brexiteer, and that today is enough, it seems, to preserve him from the drop.
The problem is not just with the Conservatives, as Mr Corbyn shows. Any other Labour leader would be riding high in the opinion polls after two years of incompetent Tory infighting. But Mr Corbyn has merely adopted a fence-sitting position of “constructive ambiguity” — until this week, when he and his personal coterie decided to back a modified version of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, and did so without informing his Shadow Cabinet.
He did so despite growing evidence that the majority of Labour Party members, and now even Labour voters, want a second referendum, in which pollsters predict 55 per cent of the population would today back Remain. And he has acted despite internal Labour polls which suggest that, if the party backed Brexit, it could expect to lose 45 seats. He is even out of sympathy with most of the supporters of the left-wing pressure group Momentum, which won him the Labour leadership. They, too, mainly back Remain.
If Mr Corbyn had any honour, or any sense of political realism, he would, perhaps, stand down in favour of the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, who, while no less left-wing, appears more in tune with the Party — and the country — on Brexit. Perhaps. But given the ability of our out-of-touch and incompetent politicians to soldier on with brazen impunity, don’t count on it.