The latest edition of the Oxford Lib Dems circular proudly boasts of their success in persuading Oxfordshire County Council to agree unanimously to impose a 20 mph limit on all non-arterial residential roads in Oxford. The screaming headline “Lib Dems win on 20 limits” and the breathless account of the victory might give the impression that startling flights of oratory and skilful negotiation were needed. In fact, agreement to the measure has long been inevitable. What is more important – and deeply depressing – is why this should be so.
The laurel-wreathed victor in this account is the egregious Lib Dem Councillor Alan Armitage. Leaving his personality on one side (as, indeed, he has) what does he actually say in support of his case for the 20 mph speed limit?
“This is all about saving lives and reducing injuries in Oxfordshire, where there are an estimated 30,000 road accidents of all types each year. In 2006…there were 68 deaths in our county from road accidents and 304 people suffering “Serious” effects.”
The Lib Dems announce their dramatic win against an open door
I don’t know how many miles of road there are in Oxfordshire. They include parts of a motorway, a major north-south trunk road, several other major roads and miles of winding lanes. Almost none of the fatalities and serious outcomes to which Armitage refers took place in Oxford, and those which did occur derived largely from stupidity or errors of judgement, not from speed per se. Oxfordshire County Council officials pull statistical stunts like this to justify the vast amount of money they spend – “accidents down by 40% since road-works”, you might read, and discover that there were five incidents in 2005 and only three in 2006, with nothing offered either as to the severity or the causes of those which did occur.
I saw a yobbo yesterday push his souped-up banger to 60 mph between Worcester College and the corner with Hythe Bridge Street. He has no fear of being caught – the police are all busy pulling in people for cycling across the pavement or are filling in forms. Master Yobbo would behave the same whatever the limit, and probably can’t count to 20 anyway with his Blair-Brown apology for an education. He is the one to go for, not busy people trying to get from A to B.
Highways officers are both thick and self-serving – they too stupid to understand the concept of causation, the idea of determining a relationship between cause and effect. They have to justify past money spent and money which they intend to spend. Vague, unsubstantiated references to accidents seem a powerful argument which keeps them in their jobs.
Armitage does not have the excuse of being thick, not that thick anyway, and his job is not under threat in a ward which would vote for anyone in Lib Dem colours – as they showed in electing him. Why does he push so hard to screw up Oxford’s traffic flow?
After 11 years of New Labour, the wind is behind people who want to ban everything. We have seen the elevation of the little people to a point where their views count. On the whole, little people are little people for good reason, and multiplying their voices by thousands does not make them any more worth listening to. The Oxford Times is full of articles about, and letters from, nobodies who cannot contain their delight at being listened to. There was an article a few weeks ago with a photograph of some dull little man who had languished in well-deserved obscurity all his life and who suddenly found a reporter and a photographer keen to hear his views and snap his characterless visage. There was no suggestion that he was qualified in any way, or had any relevant experience, statistics or knowledge to support his “demand” that everyone else be made to crawl around town in second gear.
The political parties tap eagerly into this. Of the thinking parties, the Greens like to look all soft and cuddly, but give them a whisper of power and their interference in your life will be uncontained as they try to make you be like them; the Lib Dems want to be your nanny, with grim busybodies like Armitage convinced that he knows better than you what is right and good for you; the Conservatives have no interest in Oxford City because none of the brighter ones live here. The non-thinkers of the Labour Group, from East Oxford’s MP downwards, do not need the motive of doing you good – centrist control is part of the philosophy and anything which imposes rules and restrictions is ipso facto a good thing.
What of the highways officers who will plan and execute the new restrictions? Risk-averse, like all civil servants, and too thick to question where risk really lies, they will be all for it. They love signs, mainly, I think, because their own lives would be unimaginably unstructured and directionless if they did not have frequent reminders as to what they should do.
They have a more compelling motive, though. Generous Uncle Gordon has poured money their way over the last eleven years, motivated, as in so many areas, more by the wish to spend than by any calculation as to the value of the spending. Whatever Oxfordshire County Council’s highways officers may lack in raw intellect, they are adept at making cases for major road-mending exercises. Now the money has dried up, and we were beginning to wonder what the rows of plank-like dullards would find to do to justify their jobs and salaries. Now we know.