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