Monday, August 06, 2007

Ken Livingstone's congestion charge, aka London admission fee

Chelsea, West London
Politics and environment

Is one allowed to start a blog post with "once upon a time" ?

Right now my head is spinning, and the only way I can see to order my thoughts is to start with a throwback expression like "once upon a time".

Once upon a time, like yesterday, I was reading the Sunday Times front page. There was an article about Ken Livingstone's London congestion charge, and the way it has quietly mutated into something entirely different. My ears pricked up ( well, no they didn't - I'm not sure what the visual equivalent is ) but anyway I read on, and while I didn't quite get the migraine-like fortification illusions that came last week when attempting to submit to Times online, my hackles began to rise.

At least, I think they did, but I'm not quite sure what or where the hackles are. Maybe hackles are the things that prick up when reading something that looks dodgy ? If so, my hackles are usually in a permanent state of elevation whenever I read about the devious and cunning Ken, which I've been doing from GLC days, back in the 1970s, if not earlier.

Anyway, I read about his proposed "pollution" charge on vehicles that emit more than a permitted amount of C02.

Note that I use quotation marks around "pollution" in referring to C02, which Ken and his ilk do not, given that the labelling of C02 as a pollutant is his 21st century brand of New Speak that allows him to belatedly inflict his 1984ish vision of London on us all (he tried earlier with the defunct GLC, but failed, and is now having a second go in its GLA reincarnation).

Yes, I know I am rambling, and no, I have not taken any illegal substance ( and boringly have never done so in my entire lifetime). But that's the great thing about having one's own blog. One can ramble on interminably, and there's no one saying, please, have mercy, stop.

Sometimes there's a flood of words and ideas, trying to get out, without a single superstructure on which to order them. Today is a case in point.

"Congestion charge" ? What a misnomer! What a confidence trick ? What an insult to the intelligence, and an even bigger insult to the pocket if you're driving anything bigger than a Citroen C4 !

Shortly after it was first introduced, traffic levels in the Mark 1 congestion zone were said to have dropped 30%. Ken said he had no plans to increase the charge, nor the zone. Then the queues began to build up again, and what did Ken do ? He increased the charge, now £8 a day, and extended the zone westwards to Kensington and Chelsea. Traffic levels are now just 9% below what they were before the charge was introduced.

Before you sat in a traffic jam for 30 minutes, burning petrol, creating pollution - the real stuff - like carbon monoxide (despite catalytic converters), unburnt hydrocarbons etc. The last thing you were concerned about was carbon dioxide, which was, after all, keeping Green Park green, and all the parks, Royal or otherwise, and gardens too for that matter.

Now you sit in the same traffic jam almost as long, creating all the same pollutants, but now you are paying for the privilege of being there, and being punished NOT for creating carbon monoxide etc - a threat to the quality of inner City life - but carbon DIoxide, which is no immediate threat to you or anyone else around you, but a perceived threat to the entire planet through being a greenhouse gas.

Ken and his ilk are apparently so concerned about planetary C02 that he has created a new environmental tax. If Ken deems you a global polluter he will hit you with a huge extra penalty, even if your effect on London air is minimal. Haven't we been here before ? Remember when left-wing strongholds were declared nuclear-free zones ? Gesture politics ? Political grandstanding ? The loony left ?

He would have much preferred to wage his class war by taxing you on the make and cost of your vehicle, but that would be too difficult to administer. So he has a carbon pollution tax instead, that still hits the nobs in their 4x4 s, or even your 2 litre Peugeot 406 ( the car I had when last living in the UK).

And while you or I may think it's a sordid bit of nob-bashing, he can claim with that sneering smile of his that it's all environmentally green and good for the planet, even if the benefits to Londoners are not immediately obvious.

Oh, but they are. How silly of me to wander off like this, when I had intended at the outset to start this post from an entirely different angle, but knew it would end with the Artful Dodger of GLA HQ. When you read the next paragraph you will perhaps understand why my head's in a spin.

Once upon a time (well, last week actually) Jane and I were in Pisa, the subject of my post on Colin Randall's Salut, and I was amazed to find firstly how down-at-heel Pisa looked, needing a few billions of euros for facelift, yet how we had been able to visit that Leaning Tower without paying so much as a centime.

In fact, apart from a snack, and later, lunch, we made no contribution whatsoever to the City's coffers, and the same could presumably be said for the millions of other tourists who visit Pisa each year.

So I got to musing about walled cities in the Middle ages, thinking, "I bet they didn't allow foreigners access without stopping them at the city gate, and charging an entrance fee."

So I googled "city state entry charge" to see what I'd get.

Amazing: one of the first returns was for a news item from the Independent I had read about last year, namely for plans to charge an entry charge for tourists who visit Venice . (Good thing too in my view, especially if it cuts down the daytrippers off those absurdly large cruise ships that are damaging the lagoon).

Now that was quite a coincidence, would you not say ? The same article mentioned that plans were in hand for other Italian tourist sites to do likewise, although curiously no mention of Pisa.

But then my eye alighted on a gem of a sentence that is responsible for my current blogger's block, or should that be cybersensory overload ?

" ...... The admission that a scheme to charge visitors is on the table comes in the context of a wave of enthusiasm for admission charges to major cities, the idea pioneered on a large scale by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. "

Wow. Isn't that internet research for you. Up comes what you wanted, but it's got something else that totally preempts your reasons for doing the research, casting one in the role of also- ran, or plagiariser, were one to push on regardless.

I refer, needless to say, to that reference to Ken Livingstone, not as a pioneer of a congestion charge, which as already indicated has largely failed in what it set out to do, but as someone who is the de facto pioneer, intentional or otherwise, of what might be called a "city admission charge".

Once upon a time there was a blogger who thought he could cope with anything the internet threw at him ......

Well, as you can see, we have come full circle, and I seem to have nothing to say that has not been said already, but I'm still indignant, still uptight. Why is that ?

It's that abuse of the science, I think, with Professor Livingstone self-servingly describing CO2 a pollutant, as a pretext for charging an entry tax to London . His sources are impeccable of course: if you go to the fat tfl (Transport for London) report on the congestion charge, you will see tables for vehicle pollution that list nitrogen oxides, PM10s, ie soot particles from diesels and one, and one, just ONE other item - yes, it's that deadly, noxious stuff called CO2 (despite it sustaining all life on earth, starting with the green producers at the bottom of the food chain).

The concept of an admission charge to London may be an entirely valid one, as valid for London as it would be for Venice and Pisa. But call it such, please, Commissar Livingstone. Don't dress it up as something else. It's not a pollution tax if it ignores nitrogen oxides, PM10s, sulphur dioxide and other agents directly injurious to human health. It's not a CITY "pollution tax" if based on C02. If it were, then every city, town, village in the world would be equally entitled to throw road blocks in one's path , imposing a punitive tax to let one drive on.

C02 may certainly be a threat to the planet: the evidence for that is becoming harder to falsify by the day (and that's what we scientists- or ex-scientists do - we try to falsify theories , rather than be starstruck by every plausible -sounding idea). But are we now going to wage war on every appliance that burns fossil fuels - such as our gas- fired central heating systems ? Are we looking for ways to block-up every volcano on the planet that vents C02 ( yes, I read somewhere that volcanoes emit vastly more C02 than all the man-made sources put together) ?

So please stop using mickey mouse science to justify your fake environmental tax, Ken Livingstone, aka London admission charge. Try telling it as it is, without all the smoke and mirrors.

I think I'm finally there, folks, you'll be relieved to hear, but the daemons of "dreams and daemons" have clearly been making their presence felt today.


Sarah said...

Well, if Boris Johnson gets his way, Ken will be outta City Hall faster than the CO2 is emitted from his mayoral Rolls.

ColinB said...

Ah, but will Boris be allowed to throw his hat in the ring, not that he needs one (that thatch should protect him from all but a tropical monsoon) ?

I read that Steve Lawrence's mother considers him a racist on account of some comment he once made regarding "picanninies" lined up for a Royal visit in some sunnier part of the world, and that he won't get the black vote as a consequence.

I'm not so sure. I'm sorry about what happened to Mrs.L's boy, at the hands of white racists, but I've never thought of the Afro-Caribbean community in London as having had a collective sense of humour bypass !