Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Economist 'comes out' against the 'War on the Motorist'

With thanks to The Economist for re-publishing this chart
At last, some sensible comment on this government's obsession with the so-called 'war on the motorist' espoused in particular by the secretary of statement for transport, Philip Hammond and by Eric Pickles, our cuddly secretary of state for communities and local government.

Let's hear this from The Economist:

The Tories have long cherished their reputation as the party of the motorist, and this will doubtless go down well with the party's base. Indeed the promise to end the 'war' was a recurring feature of their election campaign. It plays well with the narrative that motorists are treated as cash-cows by uncaring bureaucrats, a political trope that, after years of reptition, almost everyone now believes.

True enough, I say. In fact, if you look at yesterday's press release about the 'woes' of parking a car (a government press release genuinely suggests drivers experience parking 'woes'), even the non-cynical among you might start thinking this 'war on the motorist' verbage is sliding rapidly away from reality and into melodrama.

But the mainstream press is lapping it up.

Until now, it has been the haunt of a handful of bloggers to start pointing out this whole concept seems a bit fishy. At War on the Motorist blog re-writes this phoney war rather nicely as 'the war between motorists' and recently George Monbiot joined in with this article here (and George, although your article is superb, the fact that it's a blog article means you really ought to have mentioned the many bloggers who have been writing this same argument for months now before you latched on to it). Anyhow, back to the point which is that there are so many cars, so many traffic jams, so few places to park, such spiralling petrol costs, that something has to give. We can't keep building ourselves out of the problem with more roads. As War on the Motorist points out again and again, this war is actually between motorists competing for road space and, frankly, for a bit of sanity.

My mother is an ardent 'motorist'. She lives in town that was recently noted as having the worst public transport on a per capita basis of any similar-sized town in the UK. And she genuinely doesn't see any other option than to drive. But even she (a die-hard fan of Philip Hammond) notes that she'd like to get on a tram. Or a bike. Or just forget the stress of the car. If only the government would give her the chance.

But the government is obsessed with its war on the motorist blathering. And it thinks that turning people from 'drivers' into 'green drivers' as it repeated yesterday is going to change things. I first bemoaned this sort of attitude some months ago here if you're interested in reading further.

It's a relief that The Economist is picking up where the rest of the press is simply following the government line on this issue.

These are the salient points from The Economist as I read it:
  • Every kind of public transport is now more expensive than it was two decades ago
  • The total cost of motoring - shown by the red line - is now only around 85% of its 1997 level
  • To slightly misquote another, more famous, Tory politician, you could make a pretty strong case that the motorist has never had it so good.

 I'm not sure what to add, really. But thank you, The Economist, for sticking your neck out and speaking as you find rather than simply cutting and pasting government press releases.
This is why we still need to pay for journalism, I suppose. Because if we don't, there won't be an Economist to actually look at the reality rather than the myth.