Walter Harris: Politicians and the pleasures of fast cars
Tuesday 13 December 2005
In December 1965, the 70mph limit on motorways was brought in by Tom Fraser, the Labour transport minister, as an "emergency" measure. There was a faint whiff of the man with the red flag about it.
On 18 January, the new (non-driving) transport minister, Barbara Castle, continued it for a three-month "try-out" period - after which, of course, it became permanent.
Many reasons were given for its imposition, not all to do with speed. We were told that fossil products were finite, that far less petrol was used at lower speeds (an acknowledgement perhaps that 70 was low, but so what? Only the affluent few could afford fast cars), and that low speeds were safer.
The ratio of speed to time - in personal and economic terms, one of the principal reasons for building fast roads - had little influence on the killjoys and those many Labour MPs who, as today, had little experience of business and the world outside Westminster, and were driven then, as now, by a motive force that will sadly outlast all others: envy.
The pleasure of speed was beyond the comprehension of Castle and her civil servants; I do not recollect its ever being mentioned as worthy of consideration.
Logically, the 70mph limit on the almost empty motorways then should have closed down Jaguar, Ferrari and Porsche, and banished American cars such as the Mustang, Corvette and Thunderbird. It didn't, because one of the constituents of the human spirit of adventure, which has enabled us to accomplish so much, is speed for its own sake.
Also, humanity rather than technology still prevailed, and the police could only court so much unpopularity by enforcing the limit. These cars brought prestige and, with it, profit for their respective countries' economies, as well as pride to their owners.
These days, motorways are usually packed, so we are often unable to reach even the legal motorway limit. Told to embrace public transport, we find little value in its frequency or ubiquity, and are more sensitive to the loss of independence than to any supposed convenience or efficiency.
Now there are other parts of the world with a claim to enjoy speed and, when they build suitable roads, the chance to attain it. I do not believe that India, China and Brazil are going to shroud themselves in what currently passes for cosmic morality, and deny themselves the joys we knew - of driving fast cars without a thought for fossil fuels, global warming and other abstruse obstacles to having at last the time they believe they deserve. How can we expect them to?
Unlike those countries, we are seeing the end of our democracy; driving fast cars at speed (if we find a clear road), smoking, hunting (but not 24-hour drinking) are in the spoilsports' sights.
As the Brazilian and the Indian accelerate powerfully away, we here can only brace ourselves for the return of the man with the red flag who, after little more than 100 years, is ready to take up position in front of us once more.
And all, it seems, with the ultimate intention of destroying those freedoms that make it so much worth living the life that the oppressors want to change.
The Microsoft mogul told fans a few home truths during his Reddit AMA
Life & Style blogs
Snapchat removed the Best Friends list feature and 'stalkers' are upset
Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
Eight-year-old girl Camilla Lisant suggests possible cancer treatment to her scientist father over the dinner table
Lack of medically trained staff leaves NHS 111 phone service struggling to cope, insider claims
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
- 1 Woman falls to her death as she celebrates marriage proposal at the edge of Ibiza cliff
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a fast growing in...
£29000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV Mechanics & HGV mechani...
£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...
£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...