Annesley Abercorn was the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for the Hazel Grove constituency at the 2010 General Election and is an enthusiast of British vehicles.
I often find that the character of the nation can be captured within our buildings, landmarks, and street furniture; some of which have become symbolic icons recognised the world over as quintessentially British. This can also apply to vehicles and the Routemaster bus is no exception. I was four years old when I first caught a glimpse of the Houses of Parliament. It was from the top deck of a Routemaster bus – The No 159 heading north over Westminster Bridge. It was an inspiring moment because I was looking at one national icon from inside another – there was a connection on many levels.
This week, the first few of Boris’s new Routemaster type buses will grace the streets of London with their presence on Route 38. This is the first time in 50 years a bus has been custom designed for Londoners with the hop-on, hop-off facility. The original Routemaster bus was designed by Douglas Scott in the early 1950s and the last few were in service until as late as 2005. The new bus retains some of the post-war curves and interior colour scheme of the original model from where it draws much inspiration.
British design icons in the form of transportation need to evolve in order to survive. They have to meet the practical requirements of today if we are to continue to enjoy their presence. The new Mini for example is an interpretation of the original model. We shouldn’t be afraid to revive old icons that could perform a utility in a modern setting. The original Routemaster was a much loved symbol of London and Britain for many decades. When I realised that the end of the original Routemaster was nigh, I started to dream of a replacement moving landmark for London that would be an equally symbolic icon of Britain.
This week, Boris has delivered.
This new bus is a celebration and promotion of Britishness – our distinct national character and I believe that it is just the ticket (or just the Oyster card) in that sense. But sadly today, this tends to be the exception and not the norm.
In an increasingly diverse society set against a backdrop of globalisation, we shouldn’t underestimate the necessity and desire to nurture, promote and restore national symbols, icons and institutions that all Britons can identify with and take great pride in.
An everyday reminder of our identity and characteristics of British life is embodied by familiar national symbols and institutions whether it is The National Rail logo, the BBC, red pillar boxes or our great pubs. These are things that all Britons are exposed to and are engaged with regularly. In my view these are some of the all-important strands of glue that bind us together as a nation because it is our shared experiences which unite us.
Iconic British designs should be central to the national fabric and indeed conservatism.
There is no reason why there cannot be a new generation K6 red telephone kiosk style perhaps used as cash dispensers or mobile phone charging points. I believe that our rolling stock should also come out of the Boris school of thinking – customised British design and manufacture giving both a distinctly British and aesthetically pleasing outcome. There should be a resistance to the ‘off the peg’ option which has dominated public transport policy for the last 40 years.
Any attempt to revive national icons in the form of vehicles can have the added advantage of going some way towards rebalancing the economy which is so desperately required through increased UK manufacturing. 2005 was a bad year for British motoring. The internationally iconic Routemaster was callously withdrawn from London’s streets with no direct replacement planned and our last mass producing car maker – MG Rover went into administration at the stroke of a pen after 100 years and a national institution was lost. There was a huge outpouring of sentiment in both cases but this was not just about a bus or car company; it was about a much greater thing that bothers us subliminally and that is the loss of British engineering supremacy. We need to snap out of the default attitude that only other countries can manufacture goods that are desirable and at a cheaper cost. If we are to start reviving old icons like the Routemaster bus; not only does this play an important part in strengthening our national identity but it gives us back our sense of pride in having some engineering prowess. We have the talent and potential to make great things once again. It may take time, but there has to be greater will to do so.
The new Routemaster is more than just a bus; it is a statement of confidence in our national identity whilst giving a much needed boost to UK manufacturing. I hope that this is the start of a new journey by a) having a conscious drive to create similarly iconic British products and that b) any derivative or revivals of these products are to be designed and produced in Britain.