Mike Penning, the roads minister recently claimed that there had never been a war against the motorist in a letter to Sir Peter Tapsell MP. This is very remarkable given that in July 2010 he said that ending central funding for speed cameras “is another example of this government delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist”. He mentioned the war again – this time in an article about the scrapping of the M4 bus lane titled “M4 bus lane to be scrapped as Penning ends Labour war on road users” (which clarifies that this is a war on the motorist actually). Some people will also remember Philip Hammond’s rousing speech at the Conservative Party Conference in 2010 – this version, which has been dubbed and subtitled is the only version of the relevant parts of the speech available on the web that I can find (I wish that the government would publish all speeches online for people to review later). A popular blog titled ‘At war with the motorist‘ was set up immediately after this speech to challenge some of the view expressed by the minister. This clip was created by the folk behind iPayRoadTax.
This recent announcement has prompted me to ensure that the past won’t be forgotten so easily in future. I am making a small start by uploading some key video clips from recent motoring history onto Vimeo. For starters, here are some clips relating to battles and skirmishes for control of our roads. Lets start with the conservatives and their ambitious Road for Prosperity white paper which was published in 1989. It outlined a massive increase in road building and then Margaret Thatcher explained that “nothing can stop the great car economy” (and certainly not “wishy washy environmentalists.”) This clip is from The Secret Life of the Motorway produced by the BBC.
This led to massive road protests during the 1990s, including the M11 link road, Twyford Down (M3) protest and the Newbury Bypass protests. This next clip starts with a short sequence from the Reclaim the Streets protest on the road outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square in 1997 (which has since been pedestrianised incidentally). This is followed by a retrospective piece about the road protests of the period – do notice how wealth rural conservative voters are pushing and shoving alongside younger activists with the support of elderly local residents. Nothing ‘wishy washy’ about this lot!
The conservative government had started backing off from their ambitious road building policy by 1994 when John Gummer denied that there ever been a ‘great car economy’ saying that it was “not one which has ever been put forward by the Conservatives“! He elaborated that “The car must become our servant rather than our master” and that we must not construct a society “which restricts freedom by not allowing people to choose a lifestyle that does not involve having a motor-car“. This new found interest in alternatives to the car didn’t however stop the transport secretary at the time, Brian Mcwhinney, giving the go-ahead for the Newbury bypass the following year before resigning 30 minutes later!
When New Labour came to power in 1997 there was no question about the direction of transport policy. Here is John Prescott laying out their vision for transport.
In recent years cyclists and pedestrians have been getting more confident, not something that everyone in the motoring community has appreciated. Here is a clip from Road Rage, a documentary shown recently on TV highlighting the battle raging in the UK for control of the roads between motorists and pedestrians/cyclists etc.
Finally, as a bit of light relief, here is Jeremy Clarkson, announcing that this episode would be the ‘last ever Top Gear’ after the car came last in a race across London by various forms of transport (with Richard Hammond winning on a bicycle). There have however been many more episodes of Top Gear!
Clearly there is something very big going on about which lots of people have strong feelings. There are no easy ‘solutions’ to our transport challenges and the car most certainly isn’t it. It will be great if the currently government can avoid falling down the same hole that the last Conservative government fell down. Possibly denial is just part of the process of change in the political world?