The Myth of the War on the Motorist
British politics has long prioritised the needs of drivers over everyone else at a massive cost to us all
If there’s one thing that has never happened in the UK it’s a ‘War on the Motorist’.
In fact for most of the last hundred years, public policy has been deliberately shaped in favour of the car. From ripping up rail lines during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, to the vast proliferation of out of town shopping malls and retail parks in the 1990s and 2000s, the needs of drivers have consistently been put first.
This shift has been actively encouraged by successive Governments, which have frozen fuel duty, while slashing subsidies for public transport. The result has been a steady fall in the proportion of households which do not own a car, from around 48% in 1971 to just 22% in 2021.
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It has also resulted in a gradual degradation of the public realm. This week the journalist Tom McTague asked his followers on Twitter why European towns and cities so often feel so much more prosperous than English ones, despite not appearing so on paper.
The reason, in part, is the English obsession with the private motor car, which has turned what were once beautiful public spaces into polluted and dangerous dual carriageways and car parks.
A far more extreme version of this can be seen in the United States, where in most states car ownership is well in excess of 90% and where the dominance of the car has reached such an absurd level that it is sometimes quite impossible to physically walk anywhere without taking your life in your own hands.
As a committed political Yankophile, Rishi Sunak is apparently determined to see a similar transformation of Britain’s already car-dominated public sphere.