With a snazzy new hairdo, does Grant Shapps have eyes on the top job? HENRY DEEDES watches the Transport Secretary fizzing in the House of Commons
Grant Shapps waltzed jauntily into the Commons, a beaming model of hi-diddly-ho chirpiness. What a fizzy character the Transport Secretary is. One of Westminster’s glass half-fullers.
Almost nothing fazes him. One imagines him squeezed between two screaming toddlers on a packed flight to Sydney and enduring the ordeal with a cheery smile and insouciant shrug of the shoulders.
So often he is the man dispatched to do the Government’s dirty work, but yesterday he arrived in the House bearing glad tidings.
As of next month, anyone arriving on these shores who is fully vaccinated will no longer have to submit to one of those dreaded lateral flow tests.
Wonderful news for those looking for some sun ahead of the half-term hols. Less so for those testing cowboys who may now need to resort to a more honest means of earning their corn. Ticket- touting, perhaps.
The Transport Secretary told MPs today that it was clear that the border test regime had ‘outlived its usefulness’ and he was ‘setting Britain free’
With customary bounciness, Shapps announced he was ‘unlocking Britain’. Warm cheers rose from his own side. We’ve heard precious few of those on the Tory benches recently.
With Boris Johnson’s stock dwindling, there is no shortage of discussion among Tory backbenchers over the relative merits of Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss. Even former health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s vanilla charms are being considered worthy of a second look.
Yet Von Shapps’s calm qualities are rarely discussed. I suspect he secretly quite fancies his chances as a unity candidate. He’s sporting a snazzy new hairdo if that’s any guide.
Responding for Labour was transport spokesman Louise Haigh. She’s new to the role and it showed. She seemed nervous.
At times, she spoke so quickly she reminded me of one those people reading back all those pointless terms and conditions after you’ve just taken out a new mobile phone contract.
Naturally, Miss Haigh tried to put as glum a spin on this news as possible. One often encounters such types on the Gatwick Express back to Victoria: the holidaymaker returning from Spain who moans on the phone to mum and dad about the lacklustre hotel buffet and how the weather was too hot.
She felt not enough had been done to help out the airline industry. Shapps welcomed his new opponent with the phoney warmth of a divorce lawyer meeting the poor, cuckolded husband whom he’s about to take to the cleaners. Part pity, part amusement.
As of next month, anyone arriving on these shores who is fully vaccinated will no longer have to submit to a lateral flow test
Haigh’s miserablism failed to dent his indestructible good humour. As for her plea on behalf of beleaguered airline carriers, he pointed out that some £8billion had been dished out from the Treasury coffers. Others were more accommodating. Transport committee chairman Huw Merriman (Con, Bexhill) excitedly heralded the news as a ‘landmark day for international travel’.
No great shakes from a Tory you might think, except Merriman tends to enjoy kicking the Government. Unexpected praise too came from Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter) who peered over his half-moon specs and ‘warmly welcomed’ Shapps’s statement.
Never again, intoned Bradshaw, should the Government embark on such a destructive borders policy. Shapps had to gently remind Bradshaw that Labour’s frontbench had spent the past year demanding much tighter border restrictions. Only months ago, Sir Keir Starmer was practically insisting on a navy blockade.
At a meeting of the Covid-O committee later they are expected to scrap the requirement for people who have been fully vaccinated to take a Covid test on their return, saving around £120 per family
The SNP’s Gavin Newlands complained about the statement being leaked to the Press first, moaning that this was yet another example of the Government keeping Parliament ‘out of the loop’. Scot Nats, of course, hold Parliament in the deepest respect. So much so, they’re insisting on bringing back remote voting so they don’t have to bother making the long journey south each Monday.
The news was particularly welcome for Felicity Buchan (Con, Kensington) who reminded the House that hers was ‘a particularly international constituency’. For ‘international’ read ‘stinking rich’.
Ah yes. All those downtrodden residents of the Cadogan Estate inconvenienced during their fleeting visits to London after jetting in from their winter skiing schlosses and condos on the Cote d’Azur. Poor lambs!
Still, at least someone in government is giving them reason for cheer.