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“The war on motorists is over”?

October 2, 2010

Shortly after the election in May Philip Hammond, the new Secretary for Transport proudly announced that ‘the war on motorists would be over under the new government’.

He was being interviewed this morning on the Today programme with  ‘Lord’ Prescot also in the studio.  I am no fan of the old bruiser Prescot, but he remains a powerful advocate of what was forward looking  about Labour, when they were still trying to be a party of reform.

Labour tried to shift the balance between public transport and car travel for environmental, social and economic reasons. Car travel pollutes, it makes a substantial contribution to global warming, it is not accessible to everybody,  it has made a generation of people unfit, and it loses the economy millions of pounds every year by wasting peoples’ time when they are stuck in congestion.

2 years ago Greater Manchester lost 1.5 billion pounds of investment to improve public transport because the TIF bid was branded by Conservative campaigners as ‘a war on motorists’.  Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who campaigned with them in favour of the TIF bid, lost the referendum, but the problem will not go away.

Philip Hammond might argue that he wants to decarbonise car travel, but this clearly is only tampering at the edges of an issue that needs clear political vision for radical changes. We need a long term sustainable transport solution that is green,  healthy, inclusive and affordable for all. 

As long as a Secretary for Transport labels the much needed reform of the whole of our public transport infrastructure as a ‘war on motorists’ I have no hope that Conservatives will provide the vision and leadership for change. Labour at least showed the vision but failed to deliver the vision while they had 13 years in government.

My hope now rests with the Liberal Democrats. The last four months have shown that Liberal Democrats have already made the unthinkable possible and forced ‘old Tories’ to think again.

I hope that the same will be possible when it comes to public transport and rather than talking about the war on motorist we can look forward to the liberation from a transport system that has made us all prisoner of cars and road traffic.

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