I didn’t pay that much attention to the hullaballoo about HS2 going through, because from Day One it was an obvious stitch up. But having had a week to think about it, it’s finally dawned on me that the net result of this multi-billion Pound investment is that one will be able to arrive in Birmingham thirty-six minutes earlier.
Speaking for myself, I’ve always been attracted to the idea of arriving in Birmingham at the last possible moment – and departing again as quickly as possible. My favoured train travel mode re Birmingham would be to pull into New Street at 8.09….and then pull out again at 8.13, on account of being on the train for Manchester or Liverpool or Sheffield – or pretty much anywhere other than Birmingham.
Had Cameron opted instead for moving Birmingham somewhere else, I think it would’ve stood every chance of being a major vote-winner. My top solution would be to float it out onto the Irish Sea as a stopping point on the way to somewhere nicer like Dublin or Cork. Michael Gove is the obvious choice as Tsar on this one, in that he’s good at suggesting ideas about completely impractical floating projects. And there are potential added bonuses to such a radical relocation: Liam Byrne for example – the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill – might try and dig his way out. Ozzy Osbourne’s family could be kept in one place where we could keep an eye on them. And using this new island-as-prison would solve all our overcrowding problems in the mailbag-sewing space: 70% of the city’s population would simply carry on as before, such that all the existing new-build prisons could be rented out as subsidised luxury flats for the elderly. (The upgrade requirement would be minimal).
Every British leader does at least one spectacularly stupid thing in his or her career, and it tends to dominate the words on their metaphorical headstones. King Alfred burnt the cakes, George III mislaid America, Gordoom the great Tillerman sold all the gold, Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, and now (I have little doubt) Dave will be remembered as the man who made it easier to get to Birmingham. What better legacy could there be for a man who seems destined to manage pain and mediocrity?
There are umpteen football clubs in the Birmingham area, and not one of them has won anything of note for ages. Birmingham City FC itself has never won the FA Cup: not once, not ever. For the 55 seasons that preceded last year, they won nothing at all. They only won the old Championship once, in 1945-46….when most players were still abroad in uniform, and nobody was paying much attention. Supporting Birmingham City is the closest thing on earth to blind masochism powered by unjustified faith.
In 1975, the Bull Ring Centre in Birmingham was voted by architects Ugliest Public Building in what was then the EEC. One of the adjudicators remarked that it was “a tragedy that the Bull Ring was built too late for the Luftwaffe to bomb”. Astonishingly, there is a crater on the moon called Birmingham. As yet, it has never gone head to head with its earthly equivalent, but I have little doubt that, as a place to live, the lunar version would win hands down.
Perhaps the greatest anti-tribute I can pay to Birmingham is that, despite having more canals than Venice and more trees than Paris, it still manages to be the most depressing place on the planet after Walsall. I think this may have something to do with the lack of bicycles and Supermarket trolleys floating along the canals of Venice, and the Parisian preference for varietal tree species over 30 million sycamore weeds.
But what makes the Cameron decision to press the button on HS2 head and shoulders above any other bloomer in British political history is that it goes from north to south, whereas it should go east from Birmingham to where the major relevant ports are. Because despite itself, the city accounts for an astonishing 25% of the UK’s manufactured exports. A freight line to the Channel ports would make sense. An HS2 line connecting City plonkers with Brummy plonkers simply doesn’t add up.
There is – as I posted last month – no believable commercial payback argument for HS2, either in whole or part. Perhaps at some time in the future, a statue of Dave astride a futuristic engine (by then, an archaic transport called ‘train’) will be erected in Birmingham. If so, the guiding light for the sculptor will be to create something of unspeakable ugliness that represents the hubris only an Old Etonian could summon up. I pity the person who gets the commission.