All Quiet On The Westminster front?* Maybe not for long as Rage Against the Machine shows how the powers of smug directors to control ‘pubic opinion’ can be challenged by meek and lowly individuals…Posted: 28th December 2009 | No Comments »
As supporters of the Rage Against the Machine campaign have just shown, even the most powerful and smug controllers of what the public have to accept here in Britain, can be humbled by effective protests that are coordinated via the internet.
Getting those who have great influence to make better distinctions between having the power to manipulate, ‘control’ or simply ignore public opinion – and whether they are right to use it for their own ends – is always a battle. But it sure feels good to see one of those battles won for a change in the music world.
And, albeit on a smaller scale, I think this has an intriguing relevance to the ongoing saga of Westminster City Council’s (WCC) attempts to pioneer new high-tech systems to tax riders of motorbikes and scooters – by making them pay to park on the public roads that they have already paid many times over to use. I have just learned that Cllr Danny Chalkley has now got the latest and final version of his ‘Officer’s Report‘ in to consider.
This reviews events so far, as far as the council officers see them, and recommends whether WCC should make their ‘experimental’ rider’s tax permanent. Danny had asked for a re-write of the previous version of report which recommended going ahead with the new tax. That followed various private meetings and comments from NTBPT, MAG, BMF, and yours truly. This demand for a re-write prompted a glimmer of hope for some of us that sense would at last prevail and the power of arguments that a new UK rider’s tax would do far more harm than good, would finally be recognised. But no…
I have now read the report and can tell you that all it’s author did was add a few spurious responses to key criticisms and the recommendation to go-ahead with this potential new stealth-tax stands. Critically though, and I have already told Danny this, some of these responses will create a new focus for problems if, as I suspect they will, WCC decide to plough on with trying to get away with keeping this new revenue stream flowing. I gather though that DC’s decision will now be made early in the new year, so more on that when it happens. In the meantime, I will carry on with my reflections on recent doings.
From what I have seen so far, on the inside and the outside, it strikes me that there are strong parallels between the way that Simon Cowell of X Factor fame carries on – and the contemptuous attitudes to public opinion that are exhibited by some in Westminster who are involved with pushing this regressive tax on users of Powered Two Wheelers (PTW) – which are IMHO a vital, green and highly efficient mode of transport – especially in our congested towns and cities. However, it is worth noting that although Cowell has a bit of egg on his face, he is doubtless a great deal richer nevertheless – and smart enough to continue raking in loads more cash. And frankly, if folks want to keep spending their hard-earned on keeping Simon in the luxurious lifestyle to which he is accustomed, so be it. I am not a fan of telling anyone what to do with their cash.
What I’m still pondering though is how far the parallels may run. Will the sometimes smug controllers inside Westminster City Hall get away with no egg on face? There could well be a lot of egg to come from various sources. These include the ongoing and escalating campaign of protests organised by NTBPT and splinter groups like the RATS – and the outcomes from various legal challenges that are already being investigated and one that is waiting in the wings if the scheme goes permanent.
Perhaps most important question of all though is whether Westminster’s controllers are smart enough to cut and run if that is actually the best thing to do for all concerned, or to try and dig themselves into the trenches while they keep raking in the cash no matter how much egg gets thrown.
Far be it for me to predict or proscribe what will happen next, but I just found a little something that may show how smart or inappropriately smug the bike park tax pioneers are. While on a hunt for something else on the web, I found some extraordinary admissions by our hero/villain of the hour, Alistair Gilchrist. Now I doubt that any of these will surprise those who read my musings – but the fact that they are just sitting there may at the very least raise a wry smile. Anyway, according to Alistair, Westminster City Council were the bad boys on the UK’s billion pound parking enforcement industry block back in 2003. He made this admission as the senior officer responsible for parking services in a recent conference and his Power Point Presentation can be seen in all its glory here.
Alistair was clearly so confident at the time about the council’s plans to expand the scope of parking tax schemes that he showed examples of public anger at the council’s abuse of its power in the ‘bad old days’ – and this note (left) of what some of the public really think about promises that all will be fine in the future. The question now is, was he right to be so confident then or now?
It seems to me that despite great efforts to rid themselves of that ‘bad boy’ parking cash-cow squeezing image, the reputation of those in charge of parking controls in the heart of London could be about to plunge to even greater depths. If it soldiers on with this new tax scheme, the council will have to face more battles and on several fronts. The audit commission has begun investigating the way that contracts were awarded to Verrus, and the EU Commissioners are about to start their own investigation into other complaints about the way hat this was handled.
So, all of us who are concerned with or about the prospect of new taxes for PTW riders are left with a few questions to consider. Will Westminster City Council now decide that it’s ‘experiment’ to impose a new tax on motorbikes and scooter riders is not really the best way to go – and especially in very tough times for most of us? Or, will they continue to try and get away with making it a permanent and growing part of UK life for riders, and a new source of revenue stream for a council near you? Or, lastly for now, will rage against this new tax machine prototype become the ultimately decisive factor?
* This headline has a root in the title of a film & book called All Quite On The Western Front. This is in part about gaps in understanding of reality between front line fighters & those in power who create situations in which hard battles sometimes need to be fought and won. There are many plot reviews out there but this summary has fewer ads for dentistry and explains the title in the end.
Hope y’all had a Happy Christmas for those who believe in that sort of thing, and have a Cool Yule & New Year for those with faith in other reasons to be cheerful!