Monday, January 30, 2006

You're gonna find Ming way out in the country

The other day I wrote about Menzies Campbell's lack of enthusiasm for environmental taxation:
Having first sounded warm about it, Ming went on to say that we should be careful because in a rural constituency like his a car was a necessity not a luxury. There is something in that, but all the same my heart sank. It is precisely the argument you used to hear Liberal MPs using 30 years ago when we were a tiny party representing a few Celtic fringe constituencies. Have we really not moved on since then?
Judging by David Walter's Pravda-like account of the South-West hustings on the Campbell people's blog, Ming the Merciless is now making this opposition central to his campaign:

In the question and answer session, Ming had the advantage of being the only leadership candidate with a rural seat. Devon and Cornwall contain some of the most sparsely populated constituencies in the country. The lack of affordable housing for local people is a huge issue. When Ming spoke about house prices in St Andrews in his own constituency driving local people away, he struck a real chord.

Over one of the few issues which divides the leadership candidates, he was also more in tune with local opinion. He pointed out that raising the duty on petrol would be unfair to people in rural areas who have no alternative but to drive cars.

There's nothing wrong with winning rural seats. But can anyone map a successful future for the Liberal Democrats that does not involve our continuing to become more of an urban party?


Rob Knight said...

Surely there are ways of discouraging car use for small journeys within cities, or for regular city commutes, without increasing taxes on those with no choice but to drive? Congestion charges, or road pricing in general, would be an alternative. There are pros and cons of both approaches and I think it's unfair to suggest that opposition to fuel tax rises is anti-environment.

Valerie said...

Yes, we need to do better in cities, but I don't think that pointing out the defects of Chris Huhne's environmental proposals equates to lack of interest in development of our urban vote.

We need to encourage both country and city-dwellers to drive less, but as Rob says, there are other ways.

By the way, did anyone notice that Chris flew back from the Plymouth Hustings, while Ming got the train? (I don't know how they got there). It may have been because Chris needed to get further up north or something.

Gareth said...

I understand Chris is touring the country at present and assume this is the reason.

There are a number of ways of managing/tackling the growth in car use. Fuel duty is one such and a very effective means of tackling consumption.

Jonathan's right to highlight that, while it would be foolish to penalise rural motorists unduly, the party's future vision will become more urban (we hold most of the most rural seats anyway) and also more green.

Valerie said...

I don't really like the idea of differentiating between two groups of people here, though. People who live in the country have a few interests which differ from those of people who live in cities, but not all that many.

Mark said...

I recognise that rural areas often have little, or no, public transport provision but isn't it equally important to cut unnecessary vehicle use in 'the countryside' as in the city? It is not a matter of congestion but of fossil fuel use and CO2 production. Fuel taxes will link pollution to greater cost. Furthermore, in many situations, unnecessary journeys are made that would not be picked up by congestion charging. For example, the outer London school where I work has a catchment area so small most students live within one mile. However, every morning and afternoon the road is jammed with parents dropping off and picking up their children.

I do, however, have one concern about Chris's policy. He seems to propose reducing general taxation as environmental taxation increases. This sounds a great idea, tax companies and individuals for something bad, but what happens when people do what we want, cut their consumption and reduce the pollution? Either the environmental tax is designed to change behaviour, and so should not be relied upon as a long-term source of public finance, or we recognising that most people will never change their behaviour, and so it is a nice accounting trick.