My first time in London has been an eye-opener. It’s very much a double-edged sword. My primary emotions consisted of being impressed with the capital but being exasperated that the North of the country doesn’t have it so good. And I’m sure, that there are Londoners who are berating Sadiq Khan and others for the terrible public transport. But from my small sample, it’s anything but.
Little bit Bryson
It was demonstrated expertly on my journey down from Crewe. It should be said that Euston was closed for improvements on the day of my journey. I had a short spell on a Virgin train to Rugby. They’re alright but often late. Then came the dreaded bus replacement service. The first time I’d experienced such a thing, it felt familiar for me, as it would be for anyone else who has followed a sports team away from home. But the fact it was necessary is what was troubling. Then I used London Midland, truly a nightmare of overcrowding and stifling heat. That is the reality for many rail passengers, particularly in the North of England.
And I know there are those of you reading who suffer with Southern. But they get enough coverage in the national press; in fact, all the coverage. Northern and others in this part of the country are just as bad (it’s not a competition). And the last leg of my journey, on Thameslink, was like another world. Electronic screens telling you where you are, where you’re going and when you’re going to get there, aisles that might actually be wide enough to carry a wheelchair (imagine!). It was then that I knew I had reached the capital.
On the buses
Then there’s the buses. Every single one I saw is either brand new or only a couple of years old and practically spotless. That is a luxury one could only dream of in Cheshire. Paying contactless with either an Oyster card or your credit/debit card is another little touch that saves time and effort, as do the exit doors that ease congestion. These little pieces of increased efficiency are something that satisfy me greatly but again, frustrate, given that the rest of the country either cannot afford or refuses to have these improvements.
I have always believed in the idea that there is a north/south divide in this country, and that belief has only been strengthened. I get that London is the capital and business centre so of course it will get the best stuff first, but it is the sheer vastness of the difference that rankles.
Healing the divide
My mind has drifted to how this wealth can be shared with the north. It’s not difficult, it’s not as if we’re in Middle Earth and every journey is like a quest to a distant land. It’s the North, it’s really close.
HS2 might help. I’ve read a lot of the sad cases about people that would lose land or houses to the high-speed rail link but, harsh as it may seem, it would be a small price to pay for the spread of wealth that would accompany it. If it is quicker and easier to commute to London, then business people might consider living somewhere other than Milton Keynes to commute. Maybe they could come as far as Crewe. Our town, made famous by its railway heritage to such an extent our football team are nicknamed after them, may well be revitalised by investment that would come from being one of HS2’s northern ‘hubs’. As would Leeds, another hub. Maybe this is naïve nonsense but I’m not seeing any other ideas from central government.
Devolve to evolve
Central … what about de-centralisation? More devolution of powers from Westminster to let us control budgets and spend them on things that we actually know need improving because we live here, like public transport infrastructure. More wishful thinking? Maybe. Anyhow, all of this would have to wait until Brexit is done and dusted by which time we’ll have run out of money and the Southerners will close ranks.
Pre-Brexit, George Osborne’s big thing was the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Remember that? A series of ideas to breathe life into the old industrial heartlands of Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, Lancashire and the rest. A nice idea, but terribly executed and hasn’t been mentioned for years, despite not being scrapped. Nothing genuinely innovative and exciting for the North has come from the current government. And whatever happened to Osborne? Ah yes, I remember. He quit politics to become the highly paid editor of a newspaper. Which newspaper? The LONDON Evening Standard …