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The Future of Real Estate

- 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 ‘ people’s 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 can’t 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 doesn’t like to be seen in one (unless it’s 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 schedule.)

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 don’t run very often around here in the South-West, and they don’t 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 it’s 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, y’know 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 isn’t 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 won’t 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 Blair’s 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 for fuel.
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. That’s 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 lady sings....

© Sam North 09.2000

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