Matters of moment, September 1967

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Up, up, up, down, down, down

You can hardly have failed to notice that as the cost of motoring goes up, Mrs Castle threatens to bring the speed-limit down. Petrol is taxed now to the exorbitant figure of 3s. 7d. a gallon, having risen from 3d. a gallon in 1910 to 6d. in 1916, and starting again at 4d. a gallon in 1929 after being repealed in 1921. From that moment onwards the revenue this fuel tax provides for the Road Fund has been raided and the tax itself has increased to its present level, bringing the Government some £759,000,000 to date. You might have expected that when the price of petrol rose by 2d. a gallon due to the Middle East troubles, this fantastically high tax would have been reduced by a proportionate amount. It wasn’t…

But if car tax goes ever upwards, it looks as if the speed-limit may go down and down. Rather as if, having supported 70, 50, 40 and 30-m.p.h. limits, Mrs. B.C. intends soon to fill in the missing one. And perhaps end up with a 20-m.p.h. limit, which prevailed, but was scarcely recognised, in the days of r.w.b. vehicles.

Certainly Mrs. Castle seems to have reached a time of life when she has some very odd notions, like advocating this 60-limit when her “experiment” with 70 has only just concluded, to her satisfaction but to practically no-one else’s (see, for instance, the significant letters on pages 840 and 841). The manner in which our non-driving Minister is going about the task of controlling motorists has made her universally unpopular and many are the jibes, cracks and innuendoes she has-to suffer.

But Mrs. B.C. is determined and stubborn. To make jokes at her expense will avail us little. What is significant is that recently she has had to have Police protection, after her life had been anonymously threatened. While no-one in his or her right mind will condone such threats to a Minister of the Crown, that Mrs. Castle is the first M.o.T. to be so treated underlines the inescapable fact that persecuted Motorists are thoroughly fed up with the treatment meted out to them.

They are tired of savage taxation (£1,000,000,000 received in 1965/6; only £210,000,000 of it spent by the Government on roads), endless trapping for small increases-over speed limits prevailing on deserted roads, parking, persecution’s, child cyclists (who, unlike dogs, do not have to be on leads in busy roads) and stone-spewing lorries allowed to increase road hazards, non-uniformity of fines for non-criminal motoring offences, the danger of losing one’s driving licence for three simple technical offences in as many years, the enormous cost of new road signs even in remote country lanes, the threat of indiscriminate tests, for drivers only, by breathalyser following any minor traffic misdemeanor, after we had been told that this unpopular persecution of innocent citizens would never be permitted, seat belts being compulsory in new cars when it isn’t compulsory to wear them. the ruining of windscreens and paintwork by primitive road gritting, and all the other hundred-and-one restrictions and penalties now placed on business and pleasure motoring, in what should be an enlightened age of streamlined, smooth-flowing transport.

Mrs. Castle may be able to withstand any amount of mickey-taking. But for how long will Mr. Wilson allow Barbara to increase her vote-losing tactics and how long will it be before she is made to realise that most of her decisions are unacceptable to the motoring community, which is composed of 99% non-criminal, tax-paying citizens?

The Police, who through no wish of their own have become the motorists’ enemy, surely realise that if the mobile section of the community, with its 13-million and more cars, was to rebel and stage protest-meetings, it could prove far more lethal, give vastly more trouble, than those who protest on foot? That car owners do not cause disturbances of this kind must surely be appreciated, just as the value to the Government of patriotic motorists has all along been realised in calamities such as the General Strike, war, and transport bold-ups, etc.

Under the circumstances it would be foolish of Mrs. Castle to stretch the patience of these millions of car owners too far, even if their only retaliation was to fail to renew their “Road Fund” licences. (What a test of public transport that would provide!) We hope she will concentrate instead on the things she does reasonably well, like speeding-up some of London’s traffic and not making a fool of herself by wearing safety harness when riding in a Rolls-Royce… the 60-limit and petrol rationing and even higher motor-taxation occur, will there, we wonder, be enough of those excellent Fiat 500Fs to go round?

For this is the sort of motoring we shall all soon be reduced to. Instead of thinking up fresh quips about Castle, we have drawn up a petition which should help you to insure against downward trending speed-limits in this motor-conscious country – so read the notice which appears on page 786, and ACT. This, and not voting for a Castle-ridden Government, are the most effective means of ensuring that the best possible use is made of our existing road system by those whose skill and experience gives them the right to drive faster under suitable conditions than the majority of Britain’s car-owners habitually want to go,