Crises are problems for governments but opportunities for dogmatists.
While the British government flounders deeper into the worst financial and energy crisis in its history, various political elements are gleefully grinding their axes amid the confusion.
Their ideological tunnel vision leads to egregious examples of fiddling while Rome burns, such as the one highlighted by George Monbiot today:
Vast sums are being squandered on road schemes which will simply shunt the congestion problem on to the next bottleneck – by councils cutting a wide variety of essential services. And a massive reallocation of cash is taking place from public transport to private transport.
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It seems that the door to new roads has swung open again. The Conservatives have long had an interest in getting people off public transport and into cars. Public transport is often unionised. It pools resources and encourages social mixing and collective action. Car driving, by contrast, isolates us from other people and encourages us to see society – pedestrians, bicycles, other cars, speed limits, traffic calming – as an obstacle. The car drives us to the right. It is a powerful but overlooked agent of political change.
We are now in the post-peak era of oil production. Bank of England Governor Mervyn King yesterday admitted that a decade or more of economic stagnation could lie ahead. Put the two together and it’s clear that the steady fall in UK road traffic over the last three years will continue.
In three or four years’ time, with the economy flat-lining and fuel prices at record highs relative to disposable incomes, will people cheer these schemes or curse the narrow-minded politicos who bulldozed them through in support of a transport dogma that’s already had it’s day?