Here are several dozen of the depressingly high number of bits of British infrastructure named after the royal family

“What d’you reckon? Shall we name it after us?” Image: Getty.

Tomorrow is the royal wedding – so some wag at Great Western Railway has done this to Windsor & Eton Central station:

Which inspired reactions such as this:

I’m with Matt. I’m sure Harry and Meghan are perfectly lovely people, and I wish them every happiness, but the assumption that this entire country is going to start frantically tugging its forelock every time a member of the royal family so much as blinks gets right on my wick.

More than that, there’s a widespread national assumption that naming large bits of the public realm after specific members of a hereditary ruling dynasty is in some way a neutral act. Here is a partial list, garnered from roughly seven minutes on the internet.

  • The Victoria line (known before completion as the Viking line)
  • The Jubilee line (known before completion as the Fleet line)
  • The Elizabeth line (known before completion as Crossrail)

(London, you will note, has not been able to build a new underground railway line without naming it after the royals in nearly a century.)

  • London Victoria station
  • The Queen Elizabeth Bridge, which carries the A332 Windsor by-pass across the Thames in Berkshire
  • The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which carries the London orbital motorway across the Thames Estuary between London and Essex
  • The Queen Alexandra Bridge, across the River Wear in Sunderland (this one’s named after the wife of King Edward VII)
  • Princess of Wales Bridge, Stockton-on-Tees
  • King George VI Bridge, Aberdeen
  • King George V Bridge, Lincolnshire
  • King George V dock
  • King George V DLR station, which is named after it
  • The Royal Victoria Dock
  • Royal Victoria DLR station, which is named after it
  • The Royal Albert Dock
  • Royal Albert DLR station, which, oh, you guessed
  • Prince Regent DLR station – that one’s named after Prince Regent Lane, which connects to
  • Victoria Dock Road
  • Victoria Park, London
  • Victoria Park, Aberdeen
  • Victoria Park, Belfast
  • Victoria Park, Bournemouth
  • Victoria Park, Cardiff
  • Victoria Park, Hartlepool
  • At least 15 other Victoria Parks in Britain (I got tired of copying them all out)
  • Just to mix it up a bit, there’s a Royal Victoria Park, in Bath
  • King George Hospital, Ilford
  • Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow
  • Princess of Wales Hospital, Ely
  • Princess Royal University Hospital, Farnborough
  • Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King’s Lynn
  • Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Welwyn Garden City
  • Queen’s Hospital, Romford
  • Another Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich. That one’s quite near
  • Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup

I’m bored now so I’m going to stop. I don’t know how many schools there are named after dead members of the royal family, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess “quite a lot”. There are probably a few named after non-dead members of the royal family, too, but I’m guessing.

I assume the reason for all this is that the royal family are seen as neutral national symbols. Only a tiny share of Britons consider themselves republicans, and the career of Donald Trump is a reminder that elected heads of state are not always all they’re cracked up to be. For all its obvious theoretical flaws, in practice constitutional monarchy seems to work, so there really seems little reason to change it.

But the royal family are not neutral: they represent a particular political and social model, a class system based on hereditary privilege.

And even if they were neutral… My god, Britain – do we really have to be quite so crawling about all this? It’s making us look ridiculous.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.

School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.