Sussex bonfire associations are all busy participating in the last few local events of this season and preparing for the highlight for most as they gather together in Lewes. It is fascinating to see how a similar amount of diversely channelled effort, albeit focused on a different matter is emerging from a number of Sussex MPs in Parliament. The initial link to these two parallel issues goes back to the end of June when the Labour Party called for two actions. One was the removal of the franchise for Govia Thameslink Railways who run Southern Rail and the other was a vote of no confidence in Chris Grayling, the man who has regularly demonstrated why the current Government lacks the competence to achieve anything well. Indeed a few days ago an interview emerged with the MP for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer who claims if he was not a Tory MP “I wouldn’t go and vote. Just being honest, I wouldn’t vote. Of course I wouldn’t, no.” and he claimed that the current state of the Government he is a formal supporter of is a “shit show”. The vote to retain the GTR franchise and express confidence in Mr Grayling was achieved because of the support by 10 Sussex MPs, all of whom are members of the same party as Mr Grayling and Mr Mercer. Three more Sussex MPs, Tim Loughton and Nicholas Soames along with Stephen Lloyd chose to abstain from the vote and so the only MPs that had the credibility to vote for GTR to lose its franchise were Caroline Lucas, Peter Kyle and Lloyd Russell-Moyle. Moments after the vote took place two of the MPs who had voted to retain the franchise stood up and raised their concerns with GTR to Jo Johnson who is one of Chris Grayling’s junior Ministers. The person who spoke first and made the significant comment was Nick Herbert who stated ‘I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Before he experiences the fate of politicians and other public figures in Sussex who have particularly infuriated us and is burnt in effigy, may I ask him to reconsider his comment that services are “much improved”?’
So the idea that Jo Johnson or indeed his boss Chris will be involved in any bonfire processions emerged way back in June from Nick Herbert, the MP for Arundel and South Downs. Of course Nick and the other nine of his colleagues who voted to retain the GTR franchise may also be seen as fair game by the bonfire societies, let alone the three who abstained. Perhaps that explains why in the last few days several of them have stood up and raised their concerns, once again regarding GTR. Bearing in mind that Nick Gibb and Nusrat Ghani are both Ministers, they are not in a position to raise any concerns they might have, and in the case of Ms Ghani, she works in Chris’s department in any case.
Peter Kyle raised a couple of questions which were answered by Jo last Tuesday, Nicholas Soames asked a question that Chris Grayling answered last Monday which was the same day that Caroline Lucas had a question answered by Jo Johnson. The previous Thursday there had been a debate on the Railways Review led by Chris Grayling which Tim Loughton and Stephen Lloyd both participated in raising their concerns. Huw Merriman also spoke in that debate and on the same day raised his concerns with Jo Johnson too. The most recent contributor in debates or questions was Caroline Lucas who raised another question which Jo Johnson answered last Wednesday. Of course we are still a couple of weeks away from the 5th November so there is still time for the other seven Tory MPs who are not Ministers and yet did not vote to reject GTR to stand up and call for a change to our railway franchise. It may now be too late to prevent them from appearing in Lewes if indeed the bonfire societies have chosen to follow Nick Herbert’s lead, but for the sake of their constituents it seems vital that all of the Sussex MPs revisit the problems that are still causing local residents and visitors such intense pain. Perhaps if the MPs are looking for a subject, they could check out the questions by Caroline and Peter on the issue of how regular but less frequent users of the railways can be granted the same sort of support as season ticket holders and that the fare structure can be made much easier to understand!