James Elliott sounds out the Government's top transport chief

| 20 Dec 2016

Thanks to the power of the internet, I note that the job title of the Government’s transport head honcho has changed more than my own over the past 20 years, with four different incarnations since I joined C&SC in 1996. If you count the people with responsibility for transport who came under the umbrella of John Prescott’s role as Biggest Ever Job Title, then since then it would seem that I have seen off 15 of the buggers ranging from the brilliantly named Geoff Hoon (that’s nominative determinism if ever I saw it) to my local MP Justine Greening, who made the mistake of standing up for her constituents over the third runway at Heathrow and was rapidly shuffled elsewhere.

Most of them have had a fairly benign effect on our hobby, one or two snootily implying that they have rather more important things to be dealing with. More important for them, perhaps! Truth be told, more impact on the classic car world seems to have emanated from the Treasury. That said, I have had dealings with many transport secretaries, or at least their offices and minions or press releases.

One who did go out of his way to make time for us was John Reid, the tough Scots incumbent in the late 1990s. I’ll give him credit, he never pretended to know much about our little world, but he took the trouble to surround himself with people who did. Of course that meant that when I turned up to interview him, it was just me on one side of the table with him and his wall of advisers and experts on the other, intimidatingly putting their tape recorders on display as if it was me being interviewed by them.

Anyway, I don’t want to put transport ministers into a party political context because I judge them less by that than by their approach to classic cars. And on that front I have good news about current Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling.

Obviously he has an unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on which side of that war you serve on, I’m not getting involved) habit of using car doors to beat up cyclists, but a recent encounter left me feeling very reassured that someone actively sympathetic to our cause was in the role.

At the annual dinner of the All Party Parliamentary Historic Vehicle Group (led by inveterate classic car buyer Sir Greg Knight) and including all the classic car fans in Parliament, Graying cut an impressive figure. While bemoaning that his Saab only paddled on the fringes of modern classicdom, he said all the right things as he addressed the group (and I think in the process became the first serving secretary of state for transport to bother to do so). 

The former Capri owner was nothing less than forthright in his assertion that there would be no legislating against classic cars and he would fight any measure than would impede on our complete freedom of use. 

He said: “Classic car owners play a key role in preserving the nation’s important motoring heritage for future generations to love and enjoy. It is a fascinating hobby that brings immense enjoyment to thousands of people, supports more than 30,000 jobs and boosts the economy by £5.5 billion every year.

 “We have been working closely with vehicle clubs for more than 30 years, as a result genuine classic cars are exempt from tax and in some cases don’t need an MoT. I look forward to carrying on with this close association so that these important cars can continue to be safely driven on the roads for years to come.”

 But they all say that, or something similar, don’t they? What was different this time was his tone, rich with genuine passion and affection for classic cars, notably explicitly mentioning the pleasure that seeing our cars brings to other people and that is why they are so important as part of our heritage.

So, while I never entirely trust any politician, I am happy to report that I got a very positive vibe from Mr Grayling… just don’t try and cycle up the inside of his ministerial car.

Photo: Sergeant Tom Robinson