Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Driving a 4x4? That'll be £25 a day, please

By David Millward, Transport Correspondent
The Telegraph (London)
Last Updated: 2:17am GMT 15/11/2006

Owners of 4x4 vehicles — the so-called Chelsea Tractors — will pay £25 a day for the privilege of driving in London under plans announced yesterday by the city's mayor.

Ken Livingstone had a further penalty for drivers of the most-polluting cars who also live in central London with a proposal to abolish the 90 per cent residents' discount on the charge for entering the city's congestion zone.

This means that such residents would pay £125 if they took their 4x4s out on to the road on Monday to Friday. Weekends are exempt from the charge, which began at £5 in 2003 and is now £8 a day.

Councils around the country are expected to monitor the London charging and could follow suit if it is deemed to be a success.

But they would expect to be allowed to reinvest the money raised by such means in other forms of public transport.

"Road charging is certainly one way local authorities may wish to tackle congestion problems if they are given the power to re-invest that money into public transport," said David Sparks, the Local Government Association's transport spokesman.

"Councils will therefore be monitoring the introduction of variable charging in London with great interest."

Mr Livingstone's initiative is the latest to discourage ownership of "gas guzzlers".

It comes within weeks of nearby Richmond-upon-Thames, where the council is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, announcing the tripling of the cost of parking permits for cars in Band G (that is, those with carbon dioxide emissions above 225g per kilometre).

Mr Livingstone's move was more draconian than anticipated. While his intention to impose a £25 charge for some cars had been trailed, it had been assumed that the residents' discount would remain.

Owners of Band G models will have three years to consider trading them in for something smaller assuming the mayor's proposals come into force by the winter of 2009-10.

The move was condemned by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Conservative MP for Kensington and Chelsea, whose constituents will find themselves inside an extended congestion zone from February.

"It is an outrageous proposal and one that shows that the London mayor is going well beyond his proper responsibilities," he said.

"This is nothing to do with congestion at all. His whole approach is political."

Edmund King, of the RAC Foundation, said owners of more routine cars, including the Ford Mondeo 2.5 litre and the two-litre Renault Espace, would also be hit.

"We support proposals to remove the congestion charge from the least-polluting vehicles but have concerns about a blanket charge for all vehicles in Band G," he added.

"Consumers and manufacturers need longer time scales to change vehicles or to produce cleaner vehicles. The current proposals would hit certain species of Mondeo man as well as several popular people carriers.

"We hope that the mayor will approach the detail of this consultation with an open mind."

Mr Livingstone tried to sweeten the pill by extending the proposed congestion charge exemption to cars with carbon dioxide emissions of less than 120g per kilometre. Beneficiaries include drivers of the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid.

He was unrepentant about his plans to hit the owners of Band G cars hard.

"Those who buy them can afford to choose from pretty much the whole of the mainstream car market but have chosen to buy one of the most polluting vehicles," he said.

"By making these changes to the congestion charging scheme we are encouraging people to take into account the impact of their choice of new car on the environment and the planet."

Conservatives in Denial

By Harold Meyerson
The Washington Post
Wednesday, November 15, 2006; Page A21
On their journey through the stages of grief, conservatives don't yet seem to have gotten past denial.

Republicans may have lost, conservatives argue, but only because they misplaced their ideology. "[T]hey were punished not for pursuing but for forgetting conservatism," George F. Will, conservatism's most trenchant champion, wrote on this page last week.

Their mortal sin, in this gospel, was their abandonment of fiscal prudence.

They doffed their green eyeshades and gushed red ink. "The greatest scandal in Washington, D.C., is runaway federal spending," said Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the true-blue conservative who is challenging Ohio's John Boehner for the post of House Republican leader.

Holding conservatism blameless for last week's Republican debacle may stiffen conservative spines, but the very idea is the product of mushy conservative brains unwilling to acknowledge the obvious: that conservatism has never been more ascendant than during George Bush's presidency; that the Republican Party over the past six years moved well to the right of the American people on social, economic and foreign policy; and that on Nov. 7 the American people chose a more pragmatic course.

After all, it wasn't just the president's war that was driven by right-wing ideologues. Particularly in the past two years, Republican economics, too, was shaped by ideology. The president's proposal to privatize Social Security was the brainchild of right-wing think tanks and the financial institutions that yearned to sell all those annuities. It never penciled out, and all sober analysis concluded that its chief effect would be to imperil retirement security itself. By nonetheless making it the signature domestic issue of his second term, George Bush again stamped himself a true believer and as indifferent in economic policy as he was in foreign policy to such vulgar trivialities as facts.

Of course, one way conservatives defend the faith is to argue that the conservatism of contemporary Republicanism isn't really conservatism at all. The invasion of Iraq, in this telling, was the handiwork of Wilsonian interlopers who had strayed unaccountably into Republican ranks one night when the barn door was left ajar. But in fact the invasion of Iraq and the doctrine of preventive war have a sterling conservative pedigree; they were handed down from the right-wingers in the early years of the Cold War who rejected the strategy of containing communism and argued instead for rolling it back (an idea that Dwight Eisenhower considered sheer madness).

As well, conservatives at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue saw the war in Iraq as a way to gain a political advantage over the Democrats, who had backed the war in Afghanistan but who could be pilloried as appeasers for failing to grasp the need to roll into Baghdad. To argue that Iraq was not the conservatives' war requires expunging every congressional vote, administration speech and talk show rant of the past four years.

Besides, when Americans think of isms, they think -- at least they think first -- of how liberals and conservatives stand on social issues. A liberal backs abortion rights and gun regulations; a conservative wants to ban abortions and legalize all guns. By that measure, what has defined conservatism in the popular mind over the past couple of years has been its willingness to enlist government to block stem cell research, stop the teaching of evolution and supersede the duties of Terri Schiavo's husband.

This may be a conservatism that makes libertarians cringe, but it is the conservatism that dominates the Republican Party we have. Republicans generally and conservatives particularly have profited mightily from the rise and politicization of fundamentalism over the past few decades. The decimation of Republican moderates from the Northeast and Midwest in last week's elections came at the hands of centrist and independent voters who'd had it with the Southernized religious conservatism of the Republicans' base -- and with its moderate Republican enablers.

Finally, conservatives argue that the newly elected Democrats are really conservatives, too -- proof that the ideology is in no need of a tuneup. It's true that some of the Democrats take conservative positions on guns and abortion. But it's also true that virtually all the new Democrats look askance at free trade, want to raise the minimum wage and back a bigger role for government in making health care more affordable.

At a time when corporations abandon their employee benefits, globalization depresses wages, and individuals are compelled to shoulder more and more risk, the last thing Americans need is a government that tells them -- as it told their countrymen in New Orleans last year -- they're on their own.

That's why Republicans just ran a campaign devoid of new ideas. In a laissez-faire world that already induces anxiety and that becomes more laissez-faire with each passing day, who needs a laissez-faire party? Conservative, heal thyself.