A leaflet came through our door which reminds me why I dislike the Liberal Democrats and others of the so-called ‘centre’. It is a local election leaflet in which the candidate from the LDs proclaims himself to be “always on your side”, ie siding with anyone and everyone.
Yet large numbers of people receiving his leaflet want unsustainable and otherwise undesirable things. Thus many rallied to a campaign led by Ukip to oppose a bus priority ‘red route’ (true to form, the LDs now denounce this plan). There is a strong ‘bikelash’ here too, with many local residents vociferously claiming that cyclists are a menace. A good many seem to madly and deeply love their cars. I’ve even seen people in my street drive to the ‘County’ pub, even though it is only 5 minutes walk away. A good number want to drive into town even though there is an excellent bus service through the area.
Doubtless our local community has its share of the racist bigots, consumer fetishists, greedheads, petrolheads, narcissists, and indeed many other varieties of the weird and far from wonderful. Many, it would appear, want their council tax cut even though even more local services would have to be slashed. Big SUVs are parked outside many houses. There are doubtless not just unscrupulous landlords but also tenants both of whom play their malign part in the neglect evident in many rented properties and their gardens.
But there are many other examples of unsustainable and unfair options being willingly chosen by some local people (the candidate claims to be “speaking up for residents”, with “service guaranteed”) Many recycling wheelie bins are contaminated by people throwing inappropriate waste while perfectly recyclable materials are just thrown into the general waste wheelie bins. Many people cannot be bothered to support the local coffee shops such the perfectly good Rosie’s but take their custom to the chain ones. Then there are al those who reduce biodiversity and increase flooding risks by paving over their gardens, perhaps simply because they cannot be bothered to do the necessary work or prefer to have BBQs instead of birds and bees.
Thus there is evident conflicts of value and lifestyle preference within the local ‘community’. Some people are benefiting at the expense of others. But the LDs are apparently on the “side” of absolutely everyone. The one thing the LDs are unwilling to stand up for, putting it before all else, is the very thing that everyone depends upon: a healthy environment. Already, for example, air pollution levels in parts of the area sometimes reach dangerous levels thanks to the sheer volume of traffic, not just diesel vehicles.
Furthermore, in a finite space such as our local streets, it is impossible to maximise everything (walking, cycling, bus riding, motoring) to please everyone. Something has to give. In a finite world, more of one thing must mean less of something else. As those great ecologists, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard once put it, “you can’t always get what you want”.
Yet in another leaflet, LD candidates in the council ward to the north are attacking council plans to boost cycling on the grounds that very roughly 50% of people there travel to car. That fact may be true but such a statistic does not make ipso facto make that pattern any the more sustainable or desirable. All the evidence from greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution levels, congestion, accidents, and the likelihood of future big hikes in the price of oil suggests that we will have to plan now to discourage mass motoring. Instead, we should be shifting the bulk of investment into pedestrianisation, safe cycling schemes, better public transport and a general programme of ‘localisation’, one that would reduce the need to travel in the first place (the LDs are, in fact, big fans of globalisation and ‘free’ trade).
To be fair, most LD councillors round here are decent folk. Yet their politics are very much part of the problem, not the answer. Often in life, the ‘truth’ was not to be found in some alleged ‘middle ground’ but what many people (at the time) thought was extremism. Think of all the great scientific breakthroughs, for example. The ‘extremists’ (Trotsky, Churchill…) who warned about, say, the threat from fascism in the inter-war years turned out to be right and the ‘reasonable’ people disastrously wrong. The ‘middle of the road’ economists who failed to foresee the financial crash of 2008 also got it badly wrong whereas those radical economists and others who rang alarm bells about the unsustainability of asset inflation and mounting debt were spot on.
After all, if we took some ‘middle path’, trying to please everyone, with regards to climate change, ruination for all would result. Already in the months since the Paris COP21 conference, evidence has come in demonstrating that the ‘realists’ at that jamboree were in fact totally unreal about the scale of the danger, the speed at which it is getting worse and the very radical steps that now must be taken. The kind of moderation expressed by Liberal Democrat candidates is actually a recipe for extreme ruination.