Better than HS2: A Maglev train
Columns

Train to nowhere

HS2 represents the guilt of successive central governments about the centralisation they are incapable of correcting

The prime shit has, once again, neglected to get off at Fratton. Perhaps, given his affection of convenience for the North and for Levelling Up, that ought to be neglected to get off at Gateshead. No matter which station-stop we go for, the result is the same. The First Ostrich has foregone her right to choose and will give birth on a day when there is further news of Raaaab’s vampirism to be buried.

The people’s anti-elitist foetus, will, as soon as it mewls, become The First Love Child. Official moniker: Septimus or Nona or Decimus depending on how many of its half-siblings The Shit manages to recall. The nation will be forcibly enjoined to rejoice. There will be an outpouring of golden syrup and manna all round. The yellow press will doubtless issue daily bulletins on the Tory Top Tot. It’s straightforward stuff.

Which is more than can be said for Levelling Up, hardly a policy, more a limp slogan drilled into the robotic apes who comprise this cabinet of all the sycophants. It is apparently derived from M.C. Escher: so, fine on paper, but nowhere else. Any attempt to translate it into three dimensions is a defiance of many laws in many disciplines. It’s bogus to the marrow. The obvious tool to achieve The Levelling would be a nuanced reprise of Denis Healey’s unoriginal but gleefully brutal threat in 1974 “to squeeze the rich till the pips squeak”, a threat he carried through with 98 per cent top-rate income tax.

It was perhaps a tad overenthusiastic. Five years later Thatcher came to power bringing with her an exhortation to sauve qui peut, and governmentally-sanctioned greed. These have been the true fulcrum of cross-party consensus ever since. The chances of The Levelling being effected by fiscal devices are non-existent.

HS2 is a bludgeon where a scalpel is required

It will, instead, be achieved by a train, HS2. By the time it is operative (supposedly in 2030, pull the other one) its technology will be getting on for 70 years old. Given that Maglev is a domestic invention as well as being cheaper, cleaner, faster and much less land-hungry than HS2, the hostility it provoked in the UK’s transport establishment (there is such a thing) was astonishing. All governmentally commissioned reports and white papers into the feasibility of Maglev seem to have been undertaken by members and fellow travellers of that establishment. They are adherents of the doxa.

What buried Maglev was a fatal test track accident in Lower Saxony in 2006. That it was caused entirely by human error was, predictably, overlooked. Spendthrift retrospection has prevailed, sticking with the old ways, yet again. It is worth noting that when Sir Nigel Gresley’s sublime A4 Pacific Mallard broke the world speed record for a steam engine in 1938, every other developed country had long since abandoned steam locomotion.

Whilst the billions that are being thrown at dated HS2 technology are of course preposterous, The Shit would have been virtually cancelling himself had he cancelled the project: it belongs to the history of white elephants and bankrupt wheezes, a garden bridge from Wormwood Scrubs to Winson Green. Still, even had Maglev been the chosen technology it would still have been a case of the wrong route linking the wrong places, if more thrillingly — the sensation is that of flying on the ground.

Britain is both overcentralised and small. All routes lead swiftly to London. HS2 is, it says here, “step-changing” and a “game-changer”. It will unquestionably alter the pattern of work-related travel. The major beneficiaries of cutting the time from, say, Birmingham New Street to London Terrain Vague/The Scrubs from 120 minutes to 50 will be the volume builders, the Tories’ friends and funders who will relish the gross distension of the commuter belt.

They will be equally delighted that the East Midlands “hub” at Toton, south of Nottingham will, if it’s actually built, be 52 minutes from London. All property prices in Derby, Burton, Swadlincote, etc will ascend. But those towns will gain little. HS2 will take from them with no return. They will mutate into dormitories. The estates that surround them will be aesthetically null excrescences founded on the desperate proposition that a £15k season ticket is good value if it secures an extra bedroom and a handkerchief of lawn.

HS2 represents the guilt of successive central governments about the very centralisation that they occasion, that they even admit to, but which — such are the cultural shackles which bind — they are incapable of correcting. Decentralisation is a dirty word. Almost as dirty as dirigisme.

Helmut Schmidt was a practical, non-ideological decentraliser. His representative on earth, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, equally non-ideological, recently proposed on the Guardian letters page that that newspaper should return to its Mancunian roots. This makes absolute sense, though whether its armies of minoritarian agitators and protest kids could bear to forsake Shoreditch is questionable.

HS2 is a bludgeon where a scalpel is required. Its very existence is founded in a skewed, crude, centripetal view of the UK. A North/South divide is a fiction save to statisticians. The actual divisions are multiple and require micromanagement. Fratton and Gateshead may both be useful argotic devices and may both be touched by poverty. But Fratton is a stranger to “initiatives” and regenerative programmes because it is an exception, situated in what is torpidly conceived of as the Soft South.

Gateshead, protractedly problematic, is rightly bound to command grants and subventions because it is in the Deprived Well Gritty North where aid is oxygen. Dr Johnson averred that we should always give alms to beggars because otherwise they will not be able to continue to practise their calling — which is begging.

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