We used to complain that the motorist never got much publicity in the National Press, unless he was fined heavily or had an accident. But this grumble certainly does not apply in respect of the injustice imposed by the ban on private motoring in this country. Almost every paper and journal not only sides with the motorist, but keeps plugging away for the restoration of our “basic.” Never before has any act on the part of a Government resulted in such bitter and prolonged comment in the National Press. Picking up a paper in the office at random on the day on which we write this, we find the Daily Express editorial stating, “It is good that those who wish to take their holidays abroad may do so. But it is intolerable that the chief of all the amenities for holidays in Britain—petrol, which means the freedom of the sea and the countryside—should be denied.” On all sides there is evidence that Mr. Gaitskell’s infamous broadcast last January was not at all well received. How could it have been when, to raise one doubtful issue only, he emphasised the dollar-saving that abolition of “basic” made possible, whereas only a few weeks earlier the inference was that more cars than ever were being taxed, because every lucky motorist got plenty of petrol for serious travel ? In response to the very large number of letters addressed to Mr. Gaitskell after his pathetic broadcast, he hastily sent out, via his Private Secretary, a duplicated reply saying he hoped to deal with the main points raised in a further statement.
This vanishing from British roads of private cars results in all manner of odd things. Every family seems in some way depressed by the ban. Over Christmas a friend was unable to visit us because no transport was available for a four-mile country journey—although both she and her mother own Austin Sevens. The local schoolmaster and his wife bemoan the fact that their 9-h.p. car stands rotting in the garage and may never start again. The local owner of a row of petrol pumps and lock-ups, with an invalid wife to keep, tells us that if plenty of petrol is flowing near factories and big cities, this isn’t the case in a small country town. “And,” he adds, “I recently bought my boy a motorcycle to celebrate his return from the Forces. The kid’s had about a month’s riding on it.” There it is ; none of these people can be called “rabid enthusiasts” by any manner of reasoning, yet they are all very angry with Mr. Gaitskell. Argue if you like that “basic” costs dollars. So does “supplementary,” yet we all know people who receive far more coupons than they need or even apply for, while every doctor’s and vet’s allowance provides enough, not only for his professional journeys, but for “on-call” relaxation expeditions. Stop the black market and these unfair allocations and we shouldn’t be surprised to find it possible to restore “basic” at half its 1947 value or more, without spending one single little dollar.
Mr. Gaitskell, in between telling us what good citizens we are because we have been forced to lay up our cars, and appealing to us to give lifts to “thumbees,” also asked us not to be dishonest over petrol coupons. Surely he realises that the very inefficiency of his R.P.O.s makes criminals of honest citizens ? For instance, a business man, having insured and taxed his essential means of transport, is still waiting for a petrol allocation he made six weeks or more ago. He has to keep postponing vital calls. A neighbour offers a coupon he hasn’t needed because he has been laid-up with flu. Our honest citizen accepts it—which he would never do if he had been the grateful recipient, from Mr. Gaitskell’s bright minions, of his own allowance of coupons. Nor can the motorist feel very happy who has been convicted of an obstruction charge. What we mean is, you are suddenly pounced on in a busy street after a short stay and fined for causing an “obstruction” (usually humorous in itself) with your car. The fine paid, you see as many or more cars lined up in the same thoroughfare day after day without police action being taken. It hardly makes you want to rush to the aid of Authority against the wicked motorist who is eking out his meagre petrol allowance with a gallon obtained “under the counter” but on which he still pays 9d. in tax, after having paid from £10 upwards to put his car on the road.
Britishers used to make pilgrimages to far places and return with joyful stories of strange habits, poverty, curious clothes, drains running down the main streets. and so on. Now the boot is on the other foot. Visitors see queues before our shops and ‘bus stops, and our roads depleted of private cars, find users of essential petrol filling up numerous forms and waiting months for tyres. and discover London Transport so overloaded and under-maintained that motor-coaches. comandeered from private concerns, carry L.P.T.B. route-numbers and do duties formerly the sole prerogative of the ponderous L.P.T.B. A.E.C.s—Bedfords predominate, but Daimlers are also seen, and our visitors must admit that these coach drivers handle their vehicles every bit as well as the London ‘bus driver, while these vehicles are infinitely more comfortable than those they assist. Should our visitors venture Underground at rush hours they will never forget the overcrowding of trains. These and other odd things the foreigner must talk of. They are. perhaps, understandable at the present time. What is NOT understandable is why nearly nine million of our population have been deprived of pleasure motoring, and at least £19.000,000 a year added to our inflationary pressure in consequence, while tobacco and films, paid for in dollars. are enjoyed unrationed by anyone who wishes so to indulge. So, in this sad little island of odd happenings the enthusiast looks forward eagerly to a little relaxation, at Luton Hoo on March 29th and in Jersey on April 29th.
A Grand Idea
As long ago as last December the Veteran M.C.C. and the Vintage S.C.C. of America devised a scheme “A Grand Idea” which, if it comes to fruition, will be a grand thing for petrol-starved enthusiasts in this country. Briefly, the plot is to see whether the Minister of Fuel and Power in this country would permit Americans to bring their Edwardian cars to this country to attend a Jamboree, subscribing for the petrol required, at some suitable venue such as Stratford-on-Avon. It is hoped that some of their petrol could be diverted to enable British veteran cars to attend, and that competitions might be possible. Although it would cost some $400 to ship each American car to this country by normal routes, it is hoped that English carriers might offer reduced rates. Certainly such a Jamboree would be most enjoyable, and if it develops into a probability, it is to be hoped that the Minister of Fuel and Power will not refuse hospitality to Americans and turn away their dollars. Even if he does, something of the sort might be practicable on tourist petrol. British enthusiasts would find such an American visit a real breath of fresh air in a stagnant outlook, and we await further news with keen anticipation. The proposed date is some time next June.