THE BLOG

Labour Declares an End to a War That Only Ever Existed in the Heads of Spin Doctors

03/12/2014 10:22 GMT | Updated 01/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Reading today's Daily Mirror interview with the new shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher, I almost feel sorry for Sadiq Khan with his mission to stem the tide of Labour voters turning to the Green Party.

Michael Dugher MP has announced that he has decided to "stop demonising motorists and start championing them", going on to say that governments have seen motorists as a "cash cow" and have been creaming cash off them with fuel taxes and penalties". The reality is of course very far from this.

The war on the motorist is a populist meme, that has probably only ever existed in the heads of spin doctors. Our road transport system has seen speed cameras switched off, huge cuts to policing and has for years been based on prioritising trips by private car rather than investing in convenient public transport and active travel alternatives which would reduce the need to use a car in the first place. This has meant little enforcement, few fines and rising casualties. It has also contributed to an epidemic of physical inactivity, air pollution and road danger, condemning people to ill health and making our towns cities and villages congested, dangerous and unpleasant for those living and working there.

Dugher seems to suggest that road users are exclusively people in cars and other motorised vehicles and fails to mention that people using the road on bikes and on foot even exist. Indeed when he mentions that 11% of car trips are under a mile he suggests people might like to take the bus or a coach instead! I'm not aware of many coach companies offering such localised services and despair at his inability to imagine that a distance of a mile might be undertaken on foot in twenty minutes or even faster on a bike.

The stated quest to "represent white van man, women drivers and small businesses", is undermined by his transport proposals that look set to condemn people to hours spent, every day, in nose to tail traffic jams, breathing polluted air from the tail pipe of the car in front. Despite understanding that "congestion causes the most problems in the environment" he fails to join the dots to come up with a coherent transport policy proposal to reduce congestion, clean up our air and halt the tragedy of road death and injury that blights so many lives.

His bizarre ideas include tackling insurance bills and preventing the roads from being dug up by utility companies. Is he proposing public subsidy to reduce insurance costs? And while it may be frustrating to have road capacity reduced during utility works, I'm quite sure people would complain vociferously if Dugher had his way and gas, electricity, telecoms and water companies were prevented from digging up the road.

Just a few days ago, when he announced Labour's new cycling strategy, Dugher appeared to understand that "more people cycling every day is not only good for public health, it's good for the environment and the economy." He even continued that cycling was helping other road users because "it frees up the road for motorists, which results in less congestion, safer roads and better air quality". His newly narrowed vision of exclusively motorised road users, makes a mockery of his recent promises to take cycling seriously.

With transport policy u-turns coming this thick and fast, it's no wonder voters are confused about what the Labour Party stands for when it comes to transport. The shadow Transport Secretary's tough talk about "too many train spotters in the (transport) job" suggests that Labour is now set on a journey to more congested roads, increased road danger and worsening pollution.

Sadiq Khan will have his work cut out persuading voters who care about health and transport to vote for such a confused Labour offer in the face of a consistent and coherent Green Party vision that reduces carbon emissions, promotes active travel, cleans up our air and expands affordable convenient networks of public transport to cut out the need for car ownership in the first place.