Roman trams from the 1950s passing physical remnants of an earlier empire. Photos : John Woodman
Its ironic that while Europe's political elite and the EU's mandarins gather together in
Rome for a celebration of sixty years since the Treaty signed in the Eternal City brought together founding Member States of what is today a twenty seven nation bloc - the United Kingdom prepares to deliver formal notification of withdrawal. Never an enthusiastic paid up member of this evolving european cartel, Britain said thanks but no thanks to continuing participation in the EU with a popular referendum in 2016.
In 1957 we were slowly recovering from exerting blood, sweat and tears in defence of a free Europe - not to mention huge national debt incurred in fighting totalitarian states of the most horrendous human calibre. The continent of Europe (or at least the western half less the UK) would gather economic momentum, aided by US Marshall Plan to incentivise a recovery in time to face Soviet Russia as the Cold War cemented barriers from Stettin to Trieste. Out of postwar realpolitik emerged the concept of strength through economic coordination by Europe's two largest nation states - Germany and France. Neighbours quickly signed on, starting with Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. And so this party had its origins in Brussels and Strasbourg with a collective led by Germany (West) and France.
Through the immediate years following the 1957 Treaty of Rome, Britain's planners and London mandarins turned collective backs on electric trams. Liverpool's once great system closing with a wailing of ships hooters on the Mersey as a final procession of cars left Pier Head for the last time that year. Aberdeen in 1958, Leeds in 1959, Sheffield in 1960 and Glasgow's great system closing in 1962. Leaving just Blackpool committed to retaining its vital coastal line through successive decades. On the continent, excepting France, the reverse occurred with continuing investment in tram development and its urban infrastructure from Vienna to Gothenburg.
A direct consequence of this lapse of logical thought on the part of UK planners and their/our political masters - in thrall to the motor industry and petro-carbon interests has been abdication of design and manufacturing in railed transport. Today Britain is reliant on the likes of Japanese, French, German and Spanish companies for new generations of railed rolling stock. Vast sums of public money exit the UK heading for
accounts of equipment manufacturers and the diverse foreign owner/operators of many/most of UK train and tram systems. Britain's railways are the most expensive in western Europe - particularly for passengers on overcrowded commuter trains after being herded through shopping centres, originally designed as railway stations.
Every British light rail system, extending of course to Blackpool, is now wholly dependent upon foreign suppliers for equipment. This means all spare parts, repairs and maintenance has a price tag profitting companies outside the UK. Upgrades of trains and trams similarly involves foreign firms and their employees. The once great centres of rail equipment design, development and production in Preston, Birmingham, Crewe, Rugby and other towns and cities of the north - became bereft of knowledge, skills and inherent generational assets which has been carefully protected and maintained in Europe. Globalisation has penurised the north of Britain. Just look around our dumbed down corporate controlled high streets with plastic facia and the same tedious business brands dominating communities large and small. Subway anyone?
As the United Kingdom delivers its brown envelope to a large office in Brussels this Wednesday - a pivotal moment in European history will have been reached. For it is not only popular opinion in this country now weighting scales against further encroachment on the nation by technocrats, bureaucrats and unelected elites dining in the trough of EU largesse. From Athens to Madrid, Rome to Paris an awakened repulsion at the diktats of this wholly unrepresentative tier of self congratulatory suits governing our lives is now overflowing at polling stations and spilling into the streets across Europe capitals. The flowing champagne and treats attendant in the EU's self congratulatory party in Rome this weekend is bittersweet. The last time Europe felt such widespread popular discord and resentment it gave rise to the extremist tyrannies which Britain alone ended up facing at huge consequent cost to future generations. Lessons have not been learned nor acknowledged.
We can't turn the clock back sixty years, and nor would anyone wish it. But a break with the past does afford a new beginning for this country - all of it. Perhaps we may now see Liverpool's Pier Head again resound to the arrival of a new generation of trams built locally; and Glasgow's city centre traversed by a proud home grown Scottish designed and built tram fleet returning in the marvellous colours of that city bearing 'Let Glasgow Flourish' coat of arms. This is now all to play for as long as we push aside the naysayers and yesterday's men (and women) mouthing their worn out mantra on television screens talking down Britain. March 27th 2017 - Seize the Day