BREAKING HEADS - A REFLECTION ON THE REVOLUTION OF
- where were you in the gas-line Daddy?
OK, when the food runs out at SAFEWAY and they start siphoning the last
of my petrol out of my car (instead of scratching it and smashing the
windows which is the normal behavior around here) I suppose that we
might not think this peoples rebellion is such a
wonderful thing. When people start losing their jobs and companies go
bust, someone will moan.' We didn't mean it gov, honest'.
As this mini-rebellion comes to a close and the gas tankers roll out
of the refineries the call is 'Oh what a lovely revolution.' The implications
though are quite serious.
It is not just a case of who governs who,
but of a rediscovery that there are such things as 'popular' causes.
Protesting against unreasonalbe tax is like protesting against the Vietnam
war - entirely just and cuts across all classes and people.
I note two things about the protests so far. Labour Government representatives
keep coming on TV repeating the mantra - we cant let a
couple of protesters bring the whole country to a halt and the
other calumny that it is only Conservative voters manning the picket
lines. That this is a conspiracy between the Tory Press and the Labour
Government. There may well be a conspiracy, but that is more likely
between our revered PM and the Oil companies - along the lines of You
make the transport drivers deliver the oil and in November Gordon (the
Chancellor) will lower the tax on fuel.
However, lost in all this panic buying of petrol and food and non delivery
of post and people being laid off all over the UK is the idea that actually,
we are incredibly vulnerable to fossil fuels and if anything, we are
psychologically totally unprepared for a life without the car. Hypocrisy
is a key feature here. Us, by wanting to drive our cars wherever and
whenever and the Government, personified by two Jags, three homes, Prescott,
the Deputy Prime Minister, who is allegedly the friend of
the train, but in reality doesnt like to be seen in one (unless
its a photo-op).
In fact I recall a grad student from Hackwriters who went for a work
placement to the Guardian Newspaper mentioning that they covered a story
in which Prescott was seen to be getting on a train, only to get off
at the next station and climb into his waiting Jag to continue the journey.
We have no proof of course, but it is indicative of an attitude prevalent
in Government that the train is for other people - the car
is the main transportation method. Successive governments have allowed
under investment in trains to continue for decades and we now have a
shabby, decrepit service nationwide that runs to timetables that are
slower than a century ago. (I have proof of this in an old 1911 timetable
Richard Branson of Virgin (about whom there are rumours of financial
problems - watch that space) may be investing in millons in trains but
they have not yet arrived and the price of travel on his trains is almost
twice as expensive as using a car and a truly horrid experience. In
fact there is no good train journey in the UK, unlike France which invests
in fast trains.
So we use the car. We are dependent upon diesel and petrol which chuck
out PM2.5s (highly toxic fumes that give children asthma and can severely
affect adults too). The price of fuel is high and much higher than in
Europe. (Which is curious as their oil is priced in dollars, and the
Euro is practically worthless against the dollar. What is going on?)
On one hand we want to be environmentally conscious, on the other we
want to get around. The trains dont run very often around here
in the South-West, and they dont run at all on Sundays in Falmouth.
This goes for whole swathes of the UK where the trains are missing,
since Lord Beeching axed them in the fifties. (The Tories have to take
the blame for that). Lincolnshire is particularly blighted.
We know, just from this mass social experiment this week that without
oil, we are sunk. There is nothing to take its place. No future
planning, no contingency plan. We are road dependent and will be for
decades to come. To get us on buses and trains will take more than high
taxes. They have to be there, in place, for it to work and there is
little political will to invest in our infrastructure. At least the
extent that in includes the unprofitable areas of the UK,
farms, countryside, yknow the places 20 miles outside London.
The pickets might be selfish and a little foolish as they pack up sticks
and go home now, but they are right, it isnt fair that in Europe
they pay (in some places) fifty percent less tax on fuel than we do.
It means that they can make bigger profits faster
in business and the cost of living is lower. It is no use saying high
tax is an environmental issue, unless we can see that tax money going
on building new high speed trains all over the UK. We could do it. The
Billion we spent on the Dome could do it. The Billions we spent on maintaining
our nuclear deterrent that will NEVER BE USED would do it.
Unless we decide to invest now, unless we take a political decision
to make train journeys and bus journeys so cheap thatdriving becomes
hopelessly uneconomic, we wont give up our cars. It is no use
making public transport more and more expensive and raising fuel and
car taxes, all we will end up with is a hyper-expensive world where
no one is happy.
The political fallout from this protest movement will be interestin
European wide. Already polls show Jospin in France has lost huge support
and I think the same will happen to Blair.. At the next election people
will remember Tony Blairs arrogance and Prescott's bluff, not
whether they are right to not to cave into protest, no matter how popular
it might be, but their indifference to a popular notion, a popular and
selfish belief that we pay too much tax. If the government can get behind
the notion that we
pay too much for cars compared to Europe, then the same can be said
In fact, right here is a good case for us being in Europe and ruled
by Europe. Our cars and petrol would be cheaper and the Governments
will cave in when we protest. Thats democracy. Breaking heads
outside Plymouth docks is tryranny.
Freedom 101 anyone?
What of America come this winter, with it's low heating oil stocks,
limited natural gas supplies and rising petrol (gas) prices. Can we
expect all this mayhem to strike them when the weather turns nasty?
Can they be impervious to all this, or are we all waiting for the 'Election'
to be over and then it will let rip. Will it be peacefull, or incredbily
ugly. The winters can be very cruel. American won't take kindly to living
in cold, unheated homes. Equally, can you have these rising prices,
oil shortages and shut-downs without industrial shut-downs and layoffs?
Profits will be affected and if you haven't got out of the stockmarket
now, when will you go? Sometimes it is best not to wait until the fat
© Sam North 09.2000