Labour’s attack on road traffic has gone too far

The haulage industry is suffering badly from this government’s crippling taxes on motor vehicles and fuel. It does not drive lorries off the roads. Instead it gives a huge competitive advantage to foreign lorries to come over the Channel and grab the business.

This government has done practically nothing to increase rail capacity, offsetting the completion of the Channel tunnel rail link with measures which have reduced the use trains can make of existing tracks – the railways cut services again over the bank holiday for engineering works. You cannot deliver to most shops and factories by train – the goods have to go by truck to reach the goods entrances. If the government wishes to see the people fed, and jobs provided in British factories, it has to accept lorry traffic to move the products around. Treating lorries and vans as villains in some environmental horror movie raises the prices of food and essentials, hurting those on low incomes most, and transfers jobs from the UK to abroad.

A foreign truck business can fill their vehicles with cheaper fuel at Calais or some other French or Belgian port, and ply their trade in the UK. They can pay a foreign rate of tax on the vehicle, considerably lower than that of the UK. They can pay their drivers the overseas rate, which, in the case of the Eastern Europeans, can be a lot lower than UK pay levels. Foreign trucks drive round Labour’s nasty attack upon British hauliers, and take the business the UK industry needs to be able to have a chance of paying the government’s rip-off at the pumps. The Conservative party has long argued for a Brit disc or some other tax device to get the foreign lorries to pay their fair share of motoring taxes when using UK roads. This revenue could be applied to cutting the tax requirements on the UK vehicles. We set out ways of alleviating the tax burden on UK lorries and levelling the playing field with foreign lorries in the Economic Competitiveness review (Freeing Britain to Compete, p. 27). We pointed out that, as of last year, 75% of all lorries leaving the UK for the continent are now foreign-owned. With the vicious taxation of diesel now at the pumps this proportion will rise still further. It is high time the government at least came up with a system to balance the tax burden on transport more fairly between UK and foreign trucks, if they insist on this very high overall level.

Some Labour MPs now seem to realise that they are fast approaching high noon for their lop-sided green strategy. Over the last decade Labour has pursued a dogged and unpleasant campaign attacking the motor vehicle in all its guises. The car has been castigated as if it were the main generator of carbon dioxide, attacked for being unsafe, and singled out to be the one part of the economy which must not grow. In their ever more frantic desire to stop people getting around – and now to stop goods as well – they have lighted upon their ability to take ever larger sums of tax off motor vehicle owners and users. The robbery at the pumps is now so extreme that the public are saying very clearly to the government they have overdone it. News that next year will see a big increase in Vehicle Excise Duty for most people as well is just insufferable.

Labour’s green policy is about to fall because it is lop-sided and mean-minded. Tax and regulation were used in a draconian manner to try to stop people driving, while the government offices belted out the heating and the air conditioning, Ministers swept by in government cars paid for by the taxpayer or took to the skies to fly around the world at the taxpayers’ expense. Street lights are left on all night, even in places where no-one ventures out after midnight, some public buildings are floodlit at night, and few government offices have proper heating and lighting controls that switch off the systems when not needed. Labour has not yet dared target our homes with the same intrusive taxes and regulations on domestic power use as they inflict on us in the car. If they were thinking of doing so, the huge unpopularity of their attacks on motoring must now be driving home to the most insensitive Minister that they cannot go further down this route.

This week with the fuel protests from hauliers and the awakening of Labour MPs to the Vehicle Excise Duty increases – the Poll Tax of Wheels – it is likely the government will come to understand, finally, that it has driven the motorist into sullen hostility to all this government does and stands for. The attack on motorists has been unfair and unacceptable. They forgot that most people use cars, and we all rely on the work done by lorries and vans for our food and other supplies. They will have to think again, unless they want to go down to a very large electoral defeat.

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8 Comments

  1. Graham Doll
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    John Hutton's answer on Radio 5 this morning was – if you don't like it, SELL YOUR CAR! A deluge of vitriolic texts and emails followed. They have totally lost touch with the electorate.

  2. Richard
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I think it's telling that Harriet Harman (on the Today program) listed "increasing the global supply of oil" as being the prime way of lowering fuel prices. Clearly the labour party are so addicted to tax that it hasn't even occurred to them to lower the duty and fire a few thousand consultants.

    -=-=-

    p.s. just finished re-reading my signed copy of "Popular Capitalism" – Just as true today as it was when it was written.

  3. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    They ought to do an audit of state owned assets & sell off enough in 2009-10 to fund not only axing the VED hikes but ending VED full stop . This would axe a complex form of taxation while easing the burden on people for whom the car is essential . Pensioners with a sick spouse who needs to take them to hospital or the Doctors regularly cannot not be expected to be punished for using a necessity . That is mad & unfair .

    Haulage firms need a fuel duty rebate of 20p a litre , the 2p hike should go & road fuel duties should get a 12p a litre reduction . The 2p hike being axed & the duty cut can be funded from the VAT windfall owing to the higher oil price . The haulage firm refund can be met I think by cutting the ever pointless New Deal that has wasted funds while economic inactivity rockets . Falling transport costs might help get inflation down without higher interest rates thus helping the UK back to prosperity by keeping the food & morgages from getting any dearer . Don’t forget lower taxes + smaller government = Eire style prosperity !

    Higher taxes have not curbed emmissions or congestion related problems . The client state is funded by a lie – motorists pay for their carbon footprint many times over while these green taxes are not really green as they have not helped the environment . Rather they raise money in a regressive & inflationary manner – I thought that Labour wanted fair taxes and lower inflation ? Adding to transport costs when people struggle to meet the bills to help fund £100 billion a year in QUANGO’s that are undemocratic & wasteful is just wrong pure & simple . If Denis MacShane wants cuts in public sector waste & taxes might I suggest motoring tax cuts in response to the SOS from Labour MP’s in rural marginal seats ? They have to hold those to give Gordon Brown a majority in 2010 – so for Labour it is either embracing John Redwood’s economic wisdom or ceasing to be both a government and an effective political force ! As Denis MacShane said in his Daily Telegraph article : ‘ Watch this space ! ‘

  4. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    They ought to do an audit of state owned assets & sell off enough in 2009-10 to fund not only axing the VED hikes but ending VED full stop . This would axe a complex form of taxation while easing the burden on people for whom the car is essential . Pensioners with a sick spouse who needs to take them to hospital or the Doctors regularly cannot not be expected to be punished for using a necessity . That is mad & unfair .

    Haulage firms need a fuel duty rebate of 20p a litre , the 2p hike should go & road fuel duties should get a 12p a litre reduction . The 2p hike being axed & the duty cut can be funded from the VAT windfall owing to the higher oil price . The haulage firm refund can be met I think by cutting the ever pointless New Deal that has wasted funds while economic inactivity rockets . Falling transport costs might help get inflation down without higher interest rates thus helping the UK back to prosperity by keeping the food & morgages from getting any dearer . Don’t forget lower taxes + smaller government = Eire style prosperity !

    Higher taxes have not curbed emmissions or congestion related problems . The client state is funded by a lie – motorists pay for their carbon footprint many times over while these green taxes are not really green as they have not helped the environment . Rather they raise money in a regressive & inflationary manner – I thought that Labour wanted fair taxes and lower inflation ? Adding to transport costs when people struggle to meet the bills to help fund £100 billion a year in QUANGO’s that are undemocratic & wasteful is just wrong pure & simple . If Denis MacShane wants cuts in public sector waste & taxes might I suggest motoring tax cuts in response to the SOS from Labour MP’s in rural marginal seats ? They have to hold those to give Gordon Brown a majority in 2010 – so for Labour it is either embracing John Redwood’s economic wisdom or ceasing to be both a government and an effective political force ! As Denis MacShane said in his Daily Telegraph article : ‘ Watch this space ! ‘

  5. Richard Clarke
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Sir, you must realise that the British government could not introduce a 'Brit Disc' because applying extra tax to foreign lorries would violate EU law.

    The British government cannot even bring in a law requiring left hand drive foreign lorries to have blind spot mirrors, because this is an EU 'competence'. Hence the carnage these barely trained and incompetent truckers cause on our roads is set to continue.

  6. Jonathan M. Scott
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    One thing Labour is likely to do, knowing that a general election defeat is looming, is to force through road-pricing. This is something that out-of-touch Labour MPs are committed to, and which will hammer hard-working people.

  7. William B.
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood

    One aspect of the motoring tax-grab which causes me great concern is the lack of clarity over its purpose. I address this point to you because I have witnessed you to be a politician who states both the perceived benefits and potential detriments of his policy statements.

    Both the Labour and Conservative Parties have sought to justify increases in motoring taxes by saying that it is appropriate to impose a higher burden because driving a motor vehicle causes pollution (the fuel-duty escalator introduced by a Conservative government being a classic example).

    But it is never explained whether, and if so how, this is intended to change behaviour. The same observation applies to all so-called "green" taxes.

    To be fair to the current Prime Minister one must acknowledge that his only clear policy initiative to date (namely his stated desire to see a massive reduction in the use of plastic carrier bags) included an unequivocal assertion that the cost of bags should become prohibitive so as to limit the number produced.

    If the purpose is to use the tax system to make a significant change to behaviour there should be a clear statement of policy to this effect, including a description of the change which is being sought.

    A stated policy to impose tax at rates designed to discourage the ownership and use of motor cars with engines above a certain size might or might not find favour with the voters, but at least we would know where we stand.

    Similarly with a stated policy to impose tax at rates designed to make flying so expensive that the number of flights into and out of the UK is reduced by a given percentage.

    But as things stand I do not know whether the government wants me to continue driving an average of 1,500 miles a year in my large and comfortable car but to pay more for the privilege, or to sell my car and drive the same 1,500 miles in a small car and pay less in tax.

    Nor do I know whether the government wants to reduce the number of flights although I suspect it does not because those who are most likely to be priced out of air travel would exact a furious revenge through the ballot box.

    One feels compelled to conclude that the purpose of these taxes is simply to raise additional revenue rather than to change behaviour because there is no sign of a Plan B to be implemented once the higher rates of VED are not paid by anyone, the increased use of more fuel-efficient cars reduces the tax paid in fuel duty and those on lower incomes are priced out of their hard-earned once a year foreign holiday.

    If your party is to present any avowedly "green" tax policies at the next election, please do everything you can to ensure that any intended change in behaviour is defined clearly.

    The country is tired of hidden agendas, a big fat dose of honesty would go down a storm.

    Reply: I agree

  8. mikestallard
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    "Beware the anger of a patient man…"
    We, the public, have been very patient now and (see above) we are stirring at last.
    The truckers on TV were very moving, I thought. People at the end of their tether, actually.
    When 500,000 desperate farmers walked through the streets of London at the beginning of the Blair honeymoon, noone listened.
    When, at the end of the Blair era, the EU peaceful protest to parliament was hijacked by the suspiciously organised protest against the runway at Heathrow, nobody listened.
    We shall soon see whether anyone is listening now.

    Maybe the people who really are are listening are those who want to see how demonstrations, strikes and protests are received by the government, which they seem to see as an ever flowing fount of money. When the government gives in to the truckers, their paymasters, the TU, will be there in force…..

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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