Picture credit: TFL
Artillery Row

Train lines to nowhere

The farcical naming of new overground lines has exposed the fragility of progressivism

All aboard the Windrush Line! Sadiq Khan’s announcement that the existing London Overground network will be rebranded in the autumn, with six names celebrating London’s “diverse modern history”, has been met with predictable derision.

In fairness to Khan, a new set of names for the disparate suburban rail lines unhelpfully lumped together as “Overground” is long overdue. In 2015, TfL proposed a set of geographical names — “Lea Valley Line”, “Emerson Park Line” — to then-mayor Boris Johnson, who rejected the change on the basis of cost. Perhaps they’d have had more luck with the “Churchill Line”, the “Kipling Line” — or, indeed, the “Boris Line”.

Much ink has already been spilled by the usual suspects about the silliness of Khan’s cringeworthy left-wing mythmaking. By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the mayor of our national capital has a habit of spending taxpayer money on virtue signalling. Nor should it surprise us that the left continues to trot out the same tired narratives about the Suffragettes and the Windrush Generation, both of which are little more than clumsy attempts to prove Britain’s liberal bona fides on women’s rights and immigration respectively. 

However, the Overground’s new names should worry us not merely because they are rooted in a wholly fabricated left-wing national mythology, but because they speak to a deeper rot at the heart of British culture. 

Even more unsettling than Khan’s astroturfed progressivism is the realisation that Britain has become a twee, unserious country which feels the need to tell people what it stands for. Particularly in London, we now bombard the unsuspecting public with constant reminders of what Britain is all about, as determined by a litany of faceless stakeholder committees. This is the same childish instinct that prompted Birmingham City Council to come up with street names like “Equality Road” and “Diversity Grove”, shortly before it declared bankruptcy. 

A self-confident country would be at-ease with functional or geographical names in the public realm. It might even give a nod to a historical figure of particularly significant stature, or to a long-standing national institution. 

Our Victorian ancestors didn’t feel the need to signal their political priors when naming public infrastructure. Aside from nods to the monarchy with the Victoria and the Jubilee, most Underground lines have remarkably dry and functional names — District, Metropolitan, Northern. The fact that these utilitarian names still have the ability to provoke such clear cultural associations is a testament to London’s standing as a city of genuine global significance. Back then, we didn’t need to tell people what their country stood for — our values, culture, and accolades spoke for themselves. 

It’s also remarkable how little thought has been put towards ensuring that these new monikers bear any relation to the areas that these lines serve. It is profoundly silly, for example, that the Mildmay line doesn’t run particularly close to Mildmay hospital — and what on earth do Barking and Tottenham have to do with the Suffragettes, who were famously most active in Holborn?

Today, we rightly regard names like “Karl-Marx-Stadt” as a reminder of the insecurity of the East German regime

The nearest attempt at geographical significance comes in the form of the “Liberty Line”, which apparently refers to the “historical independence of the people of the Borough of Havering”. Of course, medieval liberties were never about the “independence of the people” — rather, they were areas in which the powers and responsibilities of the Crown were devolved to a local lord. Somehow, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that this nod towards a particular method of medieval administration was deliberate on TfL’s part. 

Taken together, these new names are a reminder that Britain is not just beset by public sector virtue signalling, but by the laziest, shallowest public sector virtue signalling imaginable. Our ruling class is not just sickeningly woke — they’re not even particularly good at it. 

If there is to be one silver lining on this particular cloud, let it be this — our left-liberal establishment’s obsession with reminding you that Britain is progressive and diverse is a sign of just how insecure their position is.

Don’t believe me? Between 1953 and 1990, the east German city of Chemnitz was known as “Karl-Marx-Stadt”, a clumsy tribute to the founding father of communism. This was not an isolated incident; the first few decades of the GDR’s existence were punctuated by an aggressive campaign of rebranding, as petty functionaries worked to erase any visible reminders of pre-communist Germany. Today, we rightly regard names like “Karl-Marx-Stadt” as a reminder of the insecurity of the East German regime — perhaps one day we’ll all look back on renaming campaigns like this one with a similar sense of ridicule. 

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover