Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, wonders when Chris Philp is going to deny that he was lying on behalf of Boris Johnson’s government
Chris Philp, a junior minister in lying Boris Johnson’s Tory government and the occasional MP for Croydon South, was given a hosing by union leader Mick Lynch on national television last night.
On the eve of the biggest national rail strike for 30 years, Philp was wheeled out once again to try to push the Conservatives’ line.
Within a few months of his arriving in parliament, Philp was quick to acquire an entirely justified reputation as being an ever-willing brown noser for his party leader.
For months now, Philp has played the ever-eager government stooge, appearing on radio or TV to defend the indefensible over Partygate and the Prime Minister’s lies. Most of the time this year, Philp has managed to peddle Downing Street’s booze-addled version of reality without any real challenge.
Not on this occasion.
What Philp did not bargain for when he agreed to appear on BBC’s Newsnight was that while he was being interviewed by Kirsty Wark, just a few feet away, on the other side of the studio desk would be Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT union.
Lynch took it upon himself to nail the latest set of Tory lies.
Over the course of just 90seconds of the minister’s interview, Lynch said, calmly, sotto voce, but just loud enough to be picked up on his lapel microphone, the words “lie”, “lied”, “direct lie”, “lying” or “he’s a liar” on at least 16 occasions (we’ve logged it several times, and we can’t be sure it wasn’t said more than that).
It was a coruscating takedown of a government minister, the likes of which probably has not been seen on a BBC programme since the days of Jeremy Paxman, or even Robin Day.
On this occasion, unlike John Nott 40 years ago, Philp did not get up and walk out of the studio in high dudgeon.
Lynch, though, had made his point.
“People are just making stuff up for the sake of it,” he said of earlier remarks by the Prime Minister which referred to Victorian era working practices on the railways.
Johnson’s latest lie is so obviously untrue that even fall-guy Philp managed, no doubt unwittingly, to demonstrate that himself when referring to agreements which date back to 1919 – a mere 18 years after the old Queen had popped her clogs.
As Lynch was able to point out, most of the RMT’s members are in fact working according to agreements with their employers which were agreed under Conservative governments in the last decade or so.
Philp, for his part, does appear to be living in the past somewhat. Despite he being a minister in the DCMS for “cutting edge” tech and the digital economy, Philp more than once during the interview referred to Lynch having given a TV interview on “video tape”, which as any fool would know is a technology which most major broadcasters stopped using around a quarter of a century ago (get with the kids, Chris! It’s all digital these days!).
The line over the rail strikes that Philp was at pains to stress also opened him up to accusations of rank hypocrisy, too.
“If we’re going to see pay increases in any sector, that needs to be backed by improvements in productivity, which means modernisation. It means using more technology… it just means moving with modern times,” Boris Johnson’s mouthpiece spurted.
This was not an argument Philp or any of his parliamentary colleagues pursued when they were handed their latest in a series of generous, publicly-funded pay rises.
Since he was first elected to parliament in 2015, Philp’s already generous MP’s salary has gone up by £10,000. What’s he done to earn it? The Houses of Commons are still run on the kind of Victorian practices that Johnson imagines or decries elsewhere, while “innovations” such as working normal office hours and using modern methods of remote or secret voting are still forbidden.
With the Tory government refusing to play a part in the rail negotiations directly, while pulling the strings of Network Rail and 13 rail operators involved in the dispute, today has seen the first of three days of strike action on the railway network planned for this week. More could be coming down the track if the intransigence of the government – which provides the bulk of the funding for the railways – continues.
In his Newsnight interview last night, Lynch revealed that as he left negotiations with Network Rail yesterday, he was handed a letter which expressed the intention for widescale compulsory redundancies from July 1 – with people now losing their jobs who the transport minister Grant Shapps was hailing as public service heroes during lockdown just a few months ago.
The union says members deserve recognition for work that “kept the country moving through the pandemic”, and argues that they are simply seeking to protect their existing terms and minimise the real-term pay cut caused by inflation.
The RMT strike involves 40,000 signallers, maintenance and train staff working for 13 train operators and Network Rail – which is responsible for infrastructure such as track, stations and level crossings. Their stoppages are happening today, Thursday and Saturday, with a separate London Underground strike also today.
Commuter habits that changed over lockdown have not fully returned to normal, meaning rail income has been reduced. The industry says it needs to act to reach a “sustainable footing”.
But the RMT says Network Rail is threatening to cut safety-critical jobs while also increasing working hours. And against an inflation rate heading towards 11per cent, after two years of no pay rises, the union is seeking an increase of 7per cent. They have already rejected a Network Rail offer of a 2per cent rise with a further 1per cent tied to job cuts.
Forty years ago, when John Nott stormed out of a BBC studio because his interviewer cast doubt over whether he was to be believed, he lost his ministerial position soon after and, within months, had also stood down as an MP. Nott’s autobiography was duly titled Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.
Last night, Philp faced a far worse barrage of questions about his own truthfulness.
Yet never once did Philp seek to rebut or deny Lynch’s accusations that he was lying.
Perhaps he didn’t because he knew he couldn’t. Or perhaps Philp figures that lying has not harmed Boris Johnson’s political career.
Or perhaps Lynch was being too kind. Maybe Croydon South’s MP isn’t a liar, but just a fool.