Can You Get to Number 10

Transported to another place…

Motoring news

The announcement has not been made public yet, but you now have a new Secretary of State for Transport. It will come as something of a surprise to Insight readers to learn that the new man for the job is me. I appreciate that this will be somewhat shocking news to the incumbent, The Rt Hon Mark Harper, but things move on in politics.

How did this happen? Did I follow the well-worn path of gaining a degree in PPE from Oxford, a short career in law and the achingly grim process of becoming an MP followed by the slippery business of climbing the political greasy pole? 

Well, not quite.

The answer is that I was appointed as a result of successfully answering a few questions on Times Radio’s hugely popular quiz, Can You Get to Number Ten, hosted by Matt Chorley. 

The format is that you are asked ten questions, each loosely based on a cabinet member’s policy area. Knowing that the Brooklyn Bridge connects Brooklyn and Manhattan got me beyond Minister without Portfolio as far as the Transport portfolio. 

Not knowing that it was Michael Caine starred with Julie Walters in Educating Rita meant that I didn’t make it as far as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Nor indeed to Number Ten.  

The whole experience has taught me a few lessons: first, do not, on a whim, email a radio station offering yourself as a guest on a show even if you’ve been able to answer all the past contestants’ questions. It’s terrifyingly different when it’s you on the spot.

Second, when the show’s fixer asks if it’ll be convenient to call you when you know you’re going to be anywhere other than a hermetically sealed and sound-proofed room, just say no. Trying to find somewhere quiet anywhere in London is quite a challenge.

While it was hugely enlightening to attend the excellent Digital Health Rewired event, the venue would surely have been quieter in its former incarnation as the Agricultural Hall, built to host the Cattle Club Show. Some gentle moo-ing or baa-ing would have been acceptable background noise for a live broadcast – not the cacophony generated by thousands of NHS technical people. 

It is extraordinary how we take excessive noise for granted. Next time you’re out and about, try to find a quiet spot to make a call or even just to collect your thoughts. (Here, a note of thanks to the lovely Hilton staff who let me use their executive lounge.) 

Bars and cafes clatter, hiss and boom. As for outside, now that I’m in charge of the nation’s transport, I will be declaring Islington High Street, and very possibly the whole of London, a traffic-free zone. The constant roar and grind of motorised transport cannot be good for physical or mental health. 

Of course, there are other areas of my portfolio to attend to, perhaps most urgently, the rail system. Reopening all the old branch lines closed by the Beeching cuts seems a more pragmatic solution for getting people to and fro, than the HS2 white elephant. And, we need more bicycles and sleeper trains and fewer potholes. Electric scooters will be allowed – but only on the road. So, that’s the new Transport Minister’s manifesto sorted. 

Next job, get on a show in which I could actually win some money.

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