Posts Tagged ‘Paul Martin’

Gordon shunts Thomas into a siding

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Thomas at Bressingham Gardens

(Click on picture to see it in its original context with details of attribution and licensing.)

Tom Harris, who until his phone call from Gordon Brown on Friday evening, was the Under Secretary of State in the Department for Transport, has been sacked. It would be hypocritical for me to shed crocodile tears. I bayed with the rest of the hounds for Tom’s blood when he supported the DfT line that the Department should be modally agnostic. Yet it would be dishonest of me not to record that although I disagreed with Tom on many matters of policy he also had many good qualities.

He was well liked by the UK railway heritage movement and enjoyed a good working relationship with David Morgan, the chairman of the Heritage Railway Association, and Fedecrail – the UK and European umbrella bodies for museum and tourist railways. He was well respected by the Railway Industry Association, whose Director General, Jeremy Candfield, posted a tribute on Tom’s blog. Paul Martin, Director General of the Railway Forum, posted another.

Tom was the son of a lorry driver who actually travelled by train! He treated those who worked for him with respect and was respected by them in return. On the other side of the balance sheet there are those who felt that he had never completely managed to wrest rail transport policy out of the grip of the dead hands of his department.

It is the manner of his passing that is a shock. It means that with Ruth Kelly’s departure, two key positions in the Department are being rotated at once. Geoff Hoon, who takes over from Ruth Kelly as Secretary of State will not have a Minister who can advise him on the Byzantine nature of British railway policy and politics. Nearly 48 hours after Gordon’s phone call to Tom, the DfT website is still showing him as the man in charge of Britain’s railways, trunk roads and ports. Nor has Tom’s successor yet been announced.

Our own reading of the tea leaves is that the decision to sack Tom was not planned as part of the original reshuffle, but is a last minute afterthought. Tom had published a gushing tribute to his former boss, Ruth Kelly, on his blog. Ruth – although nothing has been said officially – had somehow contrived to become persona non grata with the Prime Minister. Since her departure from office she has nailed her colours firmly to the mast of David Milliband’s political ambitions. In the paranoid atmosphere that surrounds No. 10, Tom’s tribute to Ruth was seen as a coded attack against Brown, so the guns were out for Tom.