“Politicians have to change their motorist-loathing ways”

Mike Rutherford thinks the levels of contempt for the private motorist from the powers that be have hit an all-time high

Opinion - ULEZ

For decades they’ve been targeting, disrespecting, bullying and short-changing us. But now their spiteful slaps are becoming more of a comprehensive kicking. And to add insult to injury, the monetary pain we’ve struggled with for so long is now in real danger of morphing into financial ruin for many of us. 

To be clear, ‘they’ are the motoring/car taxation/road-related politicians representing all the major parties at national and local levels. And who are ‘we’? Their easy-target victims – humble, self-reliant people, young and old, who drive or travel in motor cars.

For almost 40 years I’ve been interviewing professionals and amateurs tasked with running the show for – and taking the big money from – car users, and consistently they’ve been far better at the latter than the former.  But in those four decades of dealing with everyone from local councillors to even a Prime Minister or two, I’ve never known a car-hostile time quite like this. The contempt for the private motorist is at an all-time high. The legally dubious road-user charges, fines, fees and ‘late payment’ penalties have never been so big. The restrictions on our rights and freedoms to drive are tighter than I’ve ever known. 

To begin to understand how out of sync our politicians have become, get a feel for what goes on in the mind of the Prime Minister (for now), Boris Johnson. I’ve been listening to him for many painfully embarrassing days in recent weeks, and only once did I hear him express interest in transport matters. “I’m a bus fanatic,” he enthusiastically roared from the dispatch box. At around the same time, when private jet-obsessed Transport Secretary Grant Shapps should’ve been getting the implementation of the 2022 Highway Code spot on, he was playing silly buggers on TikTok.

Meanwhile, it’s reported that “drivers will foot the bill for the £1.5billion black hole” in a Transport for London funding crisis, caused by under-used buses, rancid tube trains and serial-striking public transport ‘workers’. London mayor Sadiq Khan (another self-confessed bus nut who, like the PM, is chauffeured in a Range Rover!) already rips off drivers via congestion and emission charges. But he’s now talking of extra pay-per-mile fees. All this on top of £50 to park in central London for a day. It’s legalised mugging.

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has gone down the 500 square-mile ‘clean air zone’ route, with vehicles being charged between £7.50-£60 per day (before parking fees). Put another way, users of motorised vehicles are being priced off Manchester’s streets. 

Away from the clueless Tories and misguided Labour mayors, we have the Lib Dems, whose last message to me (from Transport spokesperson Sarah Olney, while stood by her bike) was “Join me in celebrating World Car Free Day”. No thanks.

These politicians have to change their motorist-loathing ways. They’ve never been more out of touch with the overwhelming majority of UK residents, the circa 50 million people who need to use a car on an almost daily basis in Britain. Believe me when I tell you that, in the past 40 years at least, motorists and their passengers have never had it so bad.

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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