Leading article: Status symbols

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The Independent Online

It's a brave woman who gets between a minister and his car. But this is what the Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, has dared to do, in proposing to speed up the switch to "greener" vehicles in the Government's bloated fleet. In so doing, she has precipitated a high-octane battle between those who have switched, or plant to, to a hybrid Toyota Prius for their official requirements, and those wedded to their carbon-spewing Jaguars and Range Rovers.

The Jag/Rover brigade is led by the Business Secretary, John Hutton, who in turn is flanked by heavyweight Brownites, Jack Straw and Ed Balls. They would not dream, of course, of defending their choice on the grounds of a smoother, roomier ride, still less admit that it had anything to do with status, or cutting a dash in Whitehall. No, they insist, it is all to do – cue the Union flag and the national anthem – with buying British and supporting British industry. The trade (and self) promotion minister, Lord Jones, has already received a special dispensation to keep his Jag for that very reason. No wonder Mr Hutton – his boss, after all – thinks that he should be able to keep his, too.

The mistake, of course, was ever to have given ministers the choice. Had Gordon Brown announced to his first Cabinet that they would all be driven around in Priuses, and tough if they did not like it, his Cabinet might have been smaller, but it would have been infinitely easier on the planet. It would also have sent British industry a serious signal about its lagging green credentials. The day the Trade Secretary rolls up in a "green" Jag, will be the day the British car industry secures its sustainable future.