Are English towns more sensitive to extra motoring taxation?
One of the most original and thought-provoking guest articles that we’ve had on the site was the one by Blair Freebairn in October on the nature of the marginal constituencies where the next general election will be decided.
He observed that the 201 key marginals “….donâ€™t concentrate in Wales, Scotland, London, the major cities or the truly rural areas. They arenâ€™t really regional. They are heavily concentrated in Medium English Towns and Their Hinterlands (METTHs from now on). .From Scarborough via Stourbridge to Hereford. Or maybe Cleethorpes to Halifax. Stevenage to Swindon by way of Luton. From St Austell to Taunton and up to Stroud and Redditch. Kettering Corby and Broxtowe (hi Nick). How about Gravesham, Hastings and Basingstoke. Burton across to Southport via Chester. The marginals are strung like bunting through Britain avoiding the cities and the truly rural. Itâ€™s the towns, stupid!”
One of the key characteristics of METTHS, he went on to argue, was that “they are too small and diffuse to support mass transit systems. The car is central”.
For the talk and exhortations to go green and limit the use of the car can fall on deaf ears when there’s no convenient and comfortable public transport available. This might have validity in the cities but not in many of the towns where the key constituencies are.
Thus I work at the Open University in Milton Keynes where the vast majority of my colleagues (90% plus?) commute by car because there is no easy alternative. But just look at the vulnerability of the constituencies many of them live in:- Milton Keynes South (Labour majority 483), Northampton South (Labour majority 1386), Milton Keynes North (Labour majority 1862), Bedford (Labour majority 3476) and Northampton North (Labour majority 3483).
So how is today’s main lead in the Times this morning going to go down in these key seats where a car is not seen as luxury but one of the necessities of life?
This is not an easy issue for any of the parties but presenting the green message in a form that does not alienate voters could be central.
On a boringly sanctimonious personal note I get to work (on non-strike days) by cycling to the station in Bedford, putting my bike on the little-used Bedford-Bletchley line and pedalling at the other end. It’s on this train where many of my articles are written. Unlike Mr Cameron I carry my belongings in a back-pack.