Podcast: Parallel histories

Harry Beck's 1933 tube map. Image: public domain.

“Is there a podcast this week?” Someone tweeted me yesterday. “Is it about trains? I’d like it to be about trains.” Oh boy have I got good news for you.

The first half is very much about trains – or at least, the tracks they run on, as I tell Stephanie what I learned when I accidentally wrote a history of the London Underground. (Honestly, I just meant to do the line names but it kind of got out of control.) Quick précis: there’s a huge gap in the 20th century, and the British state is obsessed with bloody royalty.

Then Stephanie tells me about her favourite crazy article she’s read this week: this 2015 piece in the Daily Mail which imagines what London would look like had the Gunpowder plot succeeded in 1605, thus undoing the Reformation and turning these islands back into a Catholic country. 

Never mind that the last 400 years of British, European and World history would have been different, the article says – let’s just assume that a few if London’s buildings would look a bit French.

Then I get a bit ranty for reasons you’ll understand when we get there.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.


 

 
 
 
 

The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

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

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