London is the sickness. Is the cure to get government out and create a new capital?by Paul Barker / December 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2002 issue of Prospect Magazine
Imagine the scene. In mid-Yorkshire, a city called Elizabetha has risen out of the soggy fields, looking like Milton Keynes. For 40 years this has been the capital of the United Kingdom. But it has taken ages to complete. Contentious new contracts under the private finance initiative have only just been signed. The promise is that a new Retro-shorthand for Rural Metro-will link Elizabetha to Newcastle, Leeds, York and even Scarborough (making it easier to get to the town’s Stephen Joseph theatre for one of Alan Ayckbourn’s amusing plays about London suburbia).
The Queen still spends most of her time at her beloved Windsor, but she helicopters up to install new knights and life peers. The Prince of Wales has bought Harewood House, outside Leeds, from the Lascelles family. He experiments with organic crops that will withstand the northern winter, but often sneaks off down to Gloucestershire to see Camilla and play polo. Each year he is photographed opening the world snooker championships at the Crucible theatre, Sheffield, but critics say his heart isn’t in it.
An interactive Palace of Northminster has finally been built to the designs of Michael Hopkins. Higher than York Minster, you can see it from 50 miles away. The architect says the tower design derives from old pictures of Grimethorpe colliery in the archives of the Yorkshire & Elizabetha Post. (On the hour, if it’s morning, the clock plays a cornet solo version of “Awake, my soul, and with the sun/Thy daily stage of duty run”; later, it switches to “Abide with me: fast falls the eventide.”) Constituents can now text message their MPs as the latter walk or sit anywhere in the new Commons. The civil servants who are not scattered across Britain in quasi-autonomous agencies live in showcase eco-flats whose electricity is supplied by wind-vanes rotating all along the Dales. The first-class compartments of the new high-speed train down to London are full every Friday evening. The M1 and A1 have recently been doubled up to six lanes in each direction. The Elizabetha-Brussels British Midland service has just laid on extra flights.