The Never Ending Argument

I have a ritual. Actually, I have several but that’s maybe for later. Every Sunday morning I like to settle down with my newspaper and a mug of good coffee and spend the next couple of hours being impotently enraged on several occasions by the general wrong-thinking stupidity, pig-headedness and incompetence that inflicts the UK and world in general.

This piece, then, concerns, at least initially, the use of 20mph speed limits and two letters that referred to them in my paper. One correspondent, quite rightly, pointed out that the low speed limit does not cut emissions, it raises them. Of course, we already know that councils like to use specious arguments to claim they are right, so that the green myth maintains. This, incidentally, despite the news that CO² emissions in Europe have dropped a further 2.6% in the last year.

The other correspondent sang the praises of 20mph speed limits and the fact that the police, under the auspices of – in this case – Islington council, were actively targeting motorists who transgressed a pointless twenty limit nowhere near any school, thus raising large sums of money. It seems to me that both sides of this, and every other automotive argument, are totally entrenched and none are prepared to give ground.

And therein lies the problem. One the one hand you have the motoring enthusiasts who like cars (not necessarily fast ones) and driving and on the other you have the car-haters. This latter group are the people whose views generally hold sway. Clearly, I am firmly in the pro camp but am I the only person who sees the need for some compromise and common sense?

Fine, if you live in a city then by all means use an electric car or catch the bus; but countless numbers do not live in cities. They live in suburban or country areas where public transport goes from poor and inconvenient to simply not being available at all. It doesn’t matter which way the car-haters care to phrase it, we still need cars for transport and to support the economy.

All sensible people know that on our crowded, ruined roads there has to be rules. Decades of underinvestment in the highways and byways of Britain by successive governments has resulted in a dated infrastructure that simply can’t cope and has become more dangerous as a consequence. Million’s of your pounds have been wasted on cheap, piecemeal repairs when in fact only a thorough overhaul will do.

Authorities continue to see the motorist as a convenient cash-cow and the car as the instrument of the devil. Often these views are the result, not of common sense, but of self-important, dogmatic political expediency or shrieking, swivel-eyed ideology, regardless of the views of the huddled masses.

Frankly, I am sick of hearing about the whole business. There’s a lot of people out there who really need to get out more. The never-ending argument will only cease when all parties agree to find that illusive ‘middle way’. It can’t be beyond the wit of man to come up with solutions that suit most viewpoints (you can’t please all of the people all of the time). Nobody disagrees with slow speeds around schools but let’s get real shall we? Modern cars have never been safer; it is generally bad drivers that cause the problems. Witness the recent news that prosecutions for using a mobile when driving have dropped, for example, because there is no one to see them. Penalising otherwise good drivers who make a mistake is not the answer. All that serves is to refresh town hall coffers and put peoples’ noses out of joint. The situation needs some form of mediator who is prepared to bang some heads together in the hope that, on one far away day, there will be agreement on a sensible way forward for the car. Well, you’ve got to have a dream, right?

P.S: Since the above was written, there’s been some news: Recently councils were banned from enforcing some parking violations via the medium of CCTV and motorists rejoiced. Well, now you can un-rejoice. A company whose name I won’t publish because I don’t want to give the blighters any publicity, have built an undercover Peugeot 108 bristling with snooping technology which is said to be of ‘military grade’. This high-tech gear can do even more than regular CCTV and, “other [spy] cars are one-trick ponies; this one can be used for a variety of enforcement“, said an ‘executive’.

How can anyone be the sort of person who would actively design a bit of kit to enable snooping activities for the purposes of profit? Council officials will inevitably be inspecting this vehicle which costs, they say, around £40k. That’s forty thousand of your council tax pounds btw, for the explicit purpose of relieving you of even more money for the slightest transgression, however accidental. If anyone says, in that sanctimonious pinched-faced way, ‘well you wouldn’t get into trouble if you didn’t do anything wrong’, simply does not get it at all.

Once, it was understood that councillors were elected to serve the community. Now we elect them so that they can tell us what to do and spy upon our every move. This sort of motorist persecution resulted, according to the RAC Foundation, in a £667m surplus from parking operations in 2013-4. These people are your neighbours. Just so you know.

Geoff Maxted