Following public opinion is the road to hell. The Government's "War on the Motorist" agenda seems to be catching up with them.
The Libyan crisis seems to have belatedy woken the Government from their dreams of the Top Gear test track, into the real world of increasing, and increasingly volatile oil prices that I've been blogging about for a while now. First to awaken from slumber is Chris Huhne, who reportedly told the Observer:
"Getting off the oil hook is made all the more urgent by the crisis in the Middle East. We cannot afford to go on relying on such a volatile source of energy when we can have clean, green and secure energy from low-carbon sources."
Apparently every government department will be told this week to comply with a new national "carbon plan" aimed specifically at reducing oil-dependency. And that includes YOU, Philip Hammond. Unfortunately Hammond's current "carry on driving" strategy of encouraging car ownership and raising public transport fares rather misses the mark. I've blogged before about his ill-thought-through electric car policy, and about how few serious observers think electric cars will make much of a dent in UK oil consumption for a decade or more.
Getting "off the oil hook" can't be about continuing to drive the same number of miles as we do today, because it will take too long and cost too much to replace petrol and diesel vehicles with electric ones and build renewable generating capacity to power them. Instead, in the short to medium term, it must mean travelling less and switching to lower-emission forms of transport, such as public transport and - gasp - cycling. Can this hastily-cobbled-together "carbon plan" include cycling? Well, it jolly well ought to, because cycling is one easy way, with minimal investment, that people can reduce their travel costs significantly. Furthermore, government investment in cycling has a positive return - the economic benefits can be greater than the investment costs by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1. Unfortunately, the Coalition have washed their hands of cycling and pushed it down to local authorities, who are more concerned with refuse collection and keeping libraries open than with a transport option they have no money to fund and most of their constituents aren't aware of as an option.