Having run Theresa May’s leadership campaign, Chris Grayling was always going to be in line for a pretty beefy promotion. And so it transpired, with the staunch Brexiteer being plucked from his post as Leader of the House of Commons to head the Department for Transport.
He has been a useful ally of May’s, reassuring fellow eurosceptics and Brexit voters that the once Remain-backing Prime Minister really means that “Brexit means Brexit”.
But his appointment will bring less comfort to DfT mandarins and those in the transport industry. Detractors who have previously worked for him in government usually either decry him as a hardline right winger, or suggest he is just simply not very bright. A notorious figure since his stint as Justice Secretary in 2012-15, Grayling is known for his uncompromising and compassionless (and often senseless) policy decisions – banning books being sent to prisoners, legal aid cuts, and controversial new court charges. The legal world was also riled by his lack of knowledge about the profession, as the first non-lawyer to serve as Lord Chancellor for nearly half a century.
However, Grayling is familiar with the transport brief, having shadowed the role in 2005-7, and he will have the same challenges as many past transport secretaries (and their shadows): the future of HS2, and the question of airport expansion. Politically sticky infrastructure projects that have been consistently kicked into the long grass. But perhaps May’s enthusiasm for a proper industrial policy – and shelving of austerity targets – will mean Grayling has to get more done on such matters than his prevaricating predecessors.