The mis­ery of driv­ing in Bri­tain could fuel our own yellow vest move­ment

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment - TOM WELSH H READ MORE READ MORE

You would need to have a pe­cu­liarly short mem­ory to think that Bri­tain could not have its own gilets jaunes mo­ment. For a brief pe­riod in Septem­ber 2000, a pop­ulist re­volt in the UK looked like it could bring the gov­ern­ment down.

Oth­er­wise at the height of his pomp, a 10-point lead for Tony Blair in the opin­ion polls was dra­mat­i­cally turned into a four-point deficit in just one month. While there was lit­tle of the re­gret­table vi­o­lence that has de­stroyed Em­manuel Macron’s vain ef­forts to sell France as a coun­try that is at peace with it­self, civil dis­obe­di­ence brought chaos to the roads as truck driv­ers and farm­ers drove de­lib­er­ately slowly down mo­tor­ways. Fuel sup­plies ran low due to a block­ade of dis­trib­u­tors and a con­voy of lor­ries, vans and trac­tors en­tered Lon­don to cheer­ing crowds.

The source of the dis­con­tent was even the same thing: ris­ing fuel taxes. Those who crow at the “cost” of the fuel duty freeze (it is tire­some but nec­es­sary to re­mind them that not putting up taxes as planned is not a cost but a sav­ing, for tax­pay­ers) have com­pletely for­got­ten what hap­pened at the turn of the mil­len­nium. Ex­ces­sive tax­a­tion of the means of em­ploy­ment (of truck and lorry driv­ers) and of the means of trans­port (of nearly 90 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion) had be­come in­tol­er­a­ble. Like in France to­day, an out-of-touch elite, wed­ded to so­cially en­gi­neer­ing

While the pro­por­tion of the cost of a litre of petrol or diesel that is tax has de­clined, the as­sault on the lib­er­ties of driv­ers has been un­re­lent­ing – and the as­sump­tion that we will all be able to shift to elec­tric ve­hi­cles utopian

at tele­graph.co.uk/ opin­ion peo­ple’s lives through anti-car poli­cies, thought it could turn the screw with zero con­se­quences.

This is about more than the cost of liv­ing. It is a fun­da­men­tal dis­con­nect be­tween the political and me­dia elite and the pri­or­i­ties of or­di­nary peo­ple. While they have mor­phed into a gen­er­alised at­tack on Macron and his va­pid cen­trism, the uni­fy­ing fac­tor be­hind the “yellow vest” pro­test­ers was ini­tially that they re­lied on cars to get around and lived out­side the ma­jor cities. A new pop­ulist move­ment in Bri­tain would as­suredly be pro-car too, promis­ing swinge­ing cuts to fuel duty, free park­ing at hos­pi­tals and in town cen­tres, and a lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the frus­trat­ing rules that make driv­ing such a mis­ery.

That move­ment would have the sym­pa­thy of mil­lions. How many sto­ries have you seen com­plain­ing about the rail­ways, or the cost of a com­muter sea­son ticket? Com­pare it to the tiny per­cent­age of peo­ple who ac­tu­ally take the trains reg­u­larly. Now ask your­self how of­ten the shock­ing state of the roads, or the hor­rific level of con­ges­tion, or the con­tin­u­ous creep of 20mph zones, speed bumps, and traf­fic lights make the news. Al­most never – even though they are the source of frus­tra­tion for count­less peo­ple across the coun­try.

There will have to be a reck­on­ing. While the pro­por­tion of the cost of a litre of petrol or diesel that is tax has de­clined, the as­sault on the lib­er­ties of driv­ers has nev­er­the­less been un­re­lent­ing – and the as­sump­tion that we will all be able to shift to pub­lic trans­port or elec­tric ve­hi­cles utopian. France is not the only coun­try with a tech­no­cratic es­tab­lish­ment, ob­sessed with green poli­cies and ig­no­rant of the daily grind of its cit­i­zens.

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