EDITOR’S OPINION: We can’t skimp on innovation

Cartoon by Holly Huxter

“Splendid Job, what’s the scale” Oh erm one to one”

I think I can speak for many people when I say that as I saw Elon Musk’s rocket the, ‘Falcon Heavy’ take off, I was immediately captivated and transported back to the pioneering moments of the space race. It was a monumental achievement, made more so in that it was not made to satisfy a particular demand but to satisfy one person’s dream of propelling humanity into a brave new world of space travel. I saw a new Brunel when I saw the red car reaching orbit and make every flat-earther quake in their boots. If only the same could be said for more enterprises.

I say this because I am currently writing this on the delayed train back to York, after my original one cancelled, having gotten off of two planes that were around three hours behind schedule, due to what was at the time a dusting of snow. It is abundantly clear that services like these are in dire need of grander vision beyond the ilk of maintenance works and replacement bus services. The habit of today is to make peace with mediocrity, instead of expensive ventures into the unknown. The money it would cost to expand and build new projects to the extent the Victorians did would of course be enormous, but a fear of spending can only make us resort to the same short-term economic thinking which got our public and private services into the state we find them today.

What I am suggesting, in brief, is for Britain to re-adopt the radicalism behind the investments of the past. Britain is in need of a “new deal”, one which does not appease the issues of the short-term but focuses on the potential of the long term. 1.3 million new homes sounds like a Labour Party wet dream, yet in the 1930s it was to the most part fulfilled. I cannot for one moment believe that Britain hasn’t got the same strength of character that brought us vast growth in the 1800s and the affluence of the 1950s. So why aren’t these industrialists, environmentalists and great architects given the chance that they are denied by current orthodox political thought? Why shouldn’t grand ideas be given the go-ahead? We, the British people, have always prided ourselves on how our heritage is defined by innovation and relative success. However, as we focus on the great projects of the past, we are reluctant to support the great projects that could define our present. Whether you agree with the HS2 rail link or the expansion of Heathrow Airport, one must admit that these plans have taken too long to be approved and too long to be executed. This is not only discouraging, but it sets the precedent that a true visionary must sacrifice a significant proportion of their lives: first you must survive the wave of red tape, if you wish to even dip your toe in the pool.

President John F Kennedy said of the motivations behind the space program: “we do this, not because it is easy, but because it is hard”. All grand projects will come with the same risks that allowed mankind to land on the moon but also led to the events of Apollo 13. Grand projects like the expansion of British industry and infrastructure will come at great political and economic cost that could lead to ruin, but risks should not overshadow the potential for massive rewards.

As much as I hate ranting on about ‘how it used to be’, I believe that the optimism behind these investments should be a point of pride, as it was in times gone by. I admire the likes of Musk, Gates, and Jobs (and to some extent Branson), but it should not just be a billionaire’s game. If we ignore the pioneers of today, we may throw away the promise of a better future.

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