Taking the meme ‘Everyone I Don’t Like Is Hitler’ to dizzying new heights, now we’re being told it’s far right to want to drive your car. Motorist and fascist, peas in a pod. Protesters against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and so-called 15-minute cities – policies being adopted in various regions of the UK that will severely limit where and how often a person can drive his car – have been damned as hard-right loons. Who but a modern-day Brownshirt would bristle at eco-measures designed to save Mother Earth from car toxins? One author attended this month’s colourful protest against Oxford City Council’s anti-driving policies and decreed that this motley crew of car-lovers are on ‘the road to fascism’. Only they’ll never get there, presumably, given the elites’ penchant for road restrictions.
Yet the hysterical denunciation of pro-car protesters as maniacs and conspiracy theorists who are one car journey away from becoming open fanboys of the Fourth Reich is a new low. It’s classic gaslighting. The elites are hell-bent on restricting car-use, and this will make life harder for people, especially working-class people. To brand as nuts those who make this correct observation feels like a species of psychological warfare.
Take Oxford. If you say Oxford is turning itself into a ‘15-minute city’ – that is, a hyper-localised city in which you can get what you need within a 15-minute walk from your home – you’ll be mocked as a gullible fool. Oxford’s plans are being ‘jumped on by conspiracy theorists’ who are ‘falsely conflat[ing]’ different things, says one report. Slate calls it the ‘15-minute city conspiracy theory’ (why are American publications so bad at covering British issues?). As for the claim that Oxford is trialling a kind of ‘climate lockdown’, that’s yet another ‘conspiracy theory’, say the city’s councillors. And we’ve received a ‘torrent of abuse’ as a result of this ‘conspiracy theory’, they say. In short, everyone needs to calm down and pipe down.
Hold on a minute. Oxford really is bringing in ‘traffic filters’, though. And the intention really is to ‘reduce traffic levels in Oxford by targeting unnecessary journeys by cars’. Motorists really will be fined if they drive through the traffic filters during certain times of the day. And the aim really is to socially re-engineer the city’s populace out of using their cars – the road restrictions and financial punishments are designed to ‘make walking, cycling, public and shared transport the natural first choice’, boasts Oxfordshire County Council (my emphasis). That is, it’s a kind of sin tax, to use John Stuart Mill’s phrase, where you’ll be fined for the sin of driving in the hope that you’ll eventually feel so economically punished that you’ll choose walking instead. And all of this really is about protecting the climate from the fumes of Oxford’s motoring masses. It’s about ‘help[ing] tackle climate change’, Oxford says of its sinister traffic filters, which will be enforced by ‘automatic number plate recognition cameras’.
What’s more, Oxford really has signed up for the idea of the ‘15-minute city’, where a city’s infrastructure is slowly but surely rearranged to make walking everyone’s first choice for getting about. The Oxford Local Plan 2040, which will be used to determine all future planning applications in the city, is entirely ‘structured around the 15-minute city concept’ – in the council’s own words! – where all key services will be reachable by a 15-minute walk. Sure, the ‘traffic filters’ and the ‘15-minute city’ are, strictly speaking, separate policies, but both have been embraced by Oxford, both are designed to limit car use, and both will impact on people’s freedom of choice and freedom of movement. It really is disgraceful that those who point this out are being written off as modern-day hysterics who’ve fallen for feverish conspiracy theories about a carless future.
Elsewhere in the UK, boroughs really are being made into Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, with the use of bollards or boom barriers to physically prevent motorists from driving on certain roads. The impact this is having on tradesmen, mums of young children and disabled people is terrible. But who cares about the difficulties faced by people who must drive so long as the eco-minded middle classes can enjoy their al-fresco brunch without hearing so much vrooming and beeping. Meanwhile, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) being enforced by London mayor Sadiq Khan really does charge motorists £12.50 a day to drive certain vehicles in London and, soon, Outer London. It was good to see trade union Unite describe the expansion of ULEZ as ‘profoundly anti-worker’, given how many working-class people need to drive to work and for work.
The climate fanatics are coming for your car. It’s not a myth. It’s not a conspiracy theory. They’re open about it. In both the UK and the US, eco-thinkers continually talk about using urban planning to socially re-engineer the throng. Let’s remake American cities so that ‘walking, biking and public-transit use’ are prioritised over car-use, says Vox. Don’t call this anti-car, though. Don’t say the establishment longs to deprive us of the great 20th- and 21st-century freedom of getting in one’s vehicle and going wherever one pleases. You’ll be denounced as a crank.
Yes, some hard right-wingers have attached themselves to the uprising against the motorphobia of the new elites. But you’d think the Guardianista middle classes would understand that this is inevitable in a relatively free society. After all, these are the kind of people who attend anti-Israel demos at which you will frequently see the most vile expressions of anti-Semitic hatred and who went on those bitter anti-Brexit marches at which some banners mocked the intellectual inferiority of working-class Leave voters. If the appearance of a far-right twat at a pro-driving protest means that everyone who’s pro-driving is far right, then by the same token you all must have a very serious problem with Jews and working-class folk. That’s how this works, right?
I’m going to say it: this is a climate lockdown. It is perfectly legitimate to describe top-down, eco-justified restrictions on people’s freedom to drive as a climate lockdown. No, it isn’t the handiwork of the WEF and it isn’t part of a global plot to imprison us in our homes. But erecting cameras to spy on car-users and fining those who drive to certain parts of their own city, all with the intention of pressuring us to walk instead, is a breed of lockdown. It is illiberal, anti-modern and further proof that our green-leaning elites care little for the freedom or the bank balances of working people. Protesting against this isn’t ‘far right’ – it’s sensible and good.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer. This article was first published HERE