Leading article: Show some courage in the face of these protests

Share
Related Topics

So desperate is the atmosphere in the Parliamentary Labour Party that no sooner had hauliers begun their slow trundle through central London yesterday than a number of jittery MPs were reaching for the white flag. There have been calls from several backbenchers, terrified by last week's rejection of Labour by the voters of Crewe and Nantwich, for the Government to postpone the scheduled 2p tax rise in fuel duty still further.

We have been here before. When aggrieved hauliers and farmers blockaded fuel depots in 2000, Gordon Brown, as Chancellor, acquiesced to their demands by freezing the fuel duty. He must not make the same mistake again.

This is the defining test for the Prime Minister's green credentials. As tempted as he will be to alleviate at least one of his political headaches, Mr Brown must reject calls for a suspension of the tax. The Prime Minister presents himself as a leader who is making the right "long-term decisions" for the country. There are few issues more firmly in the UK's long-term interests than reducing our carbon emissions.

Suspending the 2p tax rise would be sheer populism. It would do nothing to address the underlying cause of the pain of haulage firms, which is a massive growth in the demand for fuel from Asia and dwindling global supplies. The idea that it is in the Government's power to control the global price of a barrel of oil is one that needs to be exposed as nonsense, not indulged. A tax suspension now would also heap up pressure for future suspensions, undermining the very purpose of the Government's fuel tax escalator.

This protest has coincided with a growing clamour for the latest vehicle excise duty reforms to be rolled back. It is unfortunate that the Government is attempting to apply these new tax bands retrospectively. People who are hit with an increase after purchasing a particular model of car have grounds for feeling aggrieved. But the underlying principle of the reform is absolutely correct. The public need firm incentives to buy less-polluting vehicles.

Of course, the problem is that the Prime Minister has a credibility problem. His "green" levies are widely regarded as disguised stealth taxes. The Government has not done itself any favours on this front in recent months. Mr Brown has tarnished his reputation for fiscal prudence through his desperate manoeuvrings over the 10p income tax rate. There is thus a reasonable question about where the funds raised by these taxes will be going: to projects that will promote low-carbon technologies and greener transport, or merely to fill a black hole in the Government's finances?

Yet it would be a mistake to focus on this issue in national terms. The pressure for acts of populism on fuel and tax are being felt not just in Britain but around the world. French fishermen have blockaded oil depots. Spanish lorry drivers are threatening to go on strike over fuel prices. This pressure is already having an effect. Two of the remaining US presidential candidates, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, have backed a summer fuel tax "holiday" for American drivers. And yesterday the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, proposed a Europe-wide cut in fuel VAT.

If we travel down this road, we will have no chance of mitigating global warming. We will never break our economies' destructive addiction to fossil fuels, or see cleaner technologies developed, if governments intervene to make petrol and diesel cheaper.

Mr Brown used to talk about the virtues of courage. It is time for him to demonstrate some of that quality by holding firm over fuel tax.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions