Why are we naming the most important public project for decades after the Queen?
I asked Crossrail and they had some weird answers
The front page of today’s Evening Standard proclaims that when it formally opens, Crossrail will be called the Elizabeth Line, in honour of the Queen.
“In honour of her majesty the Queen,” as the press release from Crossrail puts it.
“A lasting tribute to our longest serving monarch,” said Boris Johnson.
“We will ensure that it serves as a fitting tribute to Her Majesty the Queen,” Mike Brown, London’s transport commissioner, said.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin actually put it best. “Given Her Majesty the Queen’s long association with UK transport” – he didn’t specify what this association consists of; the Queen travels almost exclusively by private means – “it is very fitting that this vital link across our capital will be named the Elizabeth Line in her honour.”
Going even further, UKIP’s candidate for Mayor of London, Peter Whittle, said: “We can only hope that the rail line proves to be as dependable in terms of standards and timing as the remarkable woman it is named after” (which doesn’t mean anything).
So it’s being named after the Queen in her honour.
The most ambitious and sophisticated project undertaken on behalf of the British public since before the Second World War is being named in honour of a monarch. The most important display of British ingenuity and modern technology for at least a century, involving an especially mad 1,000-tonne boring machine called Phyllis, is going to be called “the Elizabeth Line”.
Or “truly cringemaking” as one City Hall insider described it to me privately earlier. How did it happen, I asked him? “Solely Boris’s idea” came the answer.
So I asked the Crossrail press office how Boris – the Mayor of London, one of the most forward-looking, diverse and liberal cities in the world – came to the decision to call the city’s new signature transport route the Elizabeth Line. Who did he consult? Was there a public poll? Was there a committee representing the taxpayers who are paying?
The press officer replied:
To mark Her Majesty the Queen and her 64 years as the longest-reigning British monarch we decided on the name to celebrate her record service to the nation. The Mayor of London suggested the new name to The Royal Household as a fitting tribute to her reign. The Queen approved the decision.
But who did he consult before doing that? The answer came back:
There wasn’t a consultation. The Mayor, as Chair of TfL, discussed it with senior staff at TfL.
Were they in favour of it?
Yes. This marks the latest in a long-held association between the Royal family and London’s Transport network.
I asked what that “association” consists of and she replied with a press release which mentions that “Her Majesty became the first reigning monarch to travel on the London Underground in 1969, when she opened the Victoria Line service” and goes on to list a few more openings, plaque dedications and one instance where Prince Charles took a trip on the Tube in 2013.
A family that uses the London transport network so rarely that any use is a news event, and worthy of inclusion in a press release years later, are said to have such a “long-held association” with this network that a £15bn new line is being named after them. No wonder the internet broke out in hysterics the moment the Standard broke the news.
I think my former colleague Richard Godwin got it right when he tweeted the news with the words: “This country”. Someone else just wrote: “HER MAJESTY’S LONG ASSOCIATION WITH UK TRANSPORT. WHAT.”
If really cringe names were on the table, why didn’t we get someone to put loads of money into it, name it after them, and then use that money to make it work better and faster?
Why was an enormous public project paid for largely by taxpayers and London commuters allowed to become a colossal instrument of Boris Johnson’s arselicking?
Why, after the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the Elizabeth Tower, the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, QEII Pier, lots of Queen Elizabeth hospitals and dozens more bridges, schools and theatres across our country, did we have to name this railway line, in 2016, after the same ancestral monarch?
Maybe it doesn’t matter – it’s just a name. But you have to wonder: if big brands are willing to pay tens of millions to name football stadiums and train lines and bike hire schemes after them, naming stuff we say all the time must have some kind of persuasive, normalising effect on how we think?