Friday Ephemera
It’s Mean and Beastly and Not At All Funny

Onwards to the Future

A vision of tomorrow, and at least one classic sentence, courtesy of the Guardian’s Jackie Ashley

Prospect magazine carries a thoughtful, slightly wistful piece by the former Labour MP Chris Mullin in which he calls for the abolition of the private car.

Yes, Mr Mullin would have us inhabit a world denuded of the automobile - a mode of transport he regards as “a disastrous invention” - and with it some rather obvious but unmentioned freedoms. Instead, he thinks we should want to live in a more bipedal and egalitarian world. A world not unlike

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, before the coming of market forces.

And naturally, Ms Ashley is very much intrigued: 

That might be going too far for today’s politicians, but the effect of hard times and the oil price on budgets, and the sheer misery of modern car commuting, suggests that a more radical agenda could be popular. That means much bolder support for cycling, with cars banned from many more roads and parks. It’s one of the few radical shifts in lifestyle that is easily deliverable and for which there is no real drawback.

Banning cars from roads is easily delivered and has no drawback, see? At least, not for Ms Ashley, who cares so very much and thinks so very deeply.

As do other cerebral and compassionate Guardianistas:

Cars should be banned - they are unhealthy, dangerous, a lazy and destructive option. The only people who should be allowed them are: (a) people who work far from their home where public transport is not sufficient (they would have to provide evidence upon trying to buy a car); (b) people with 3 children or more (for transporting kids + big weekly shops); (c) disabled people who would find it difficult to use public transport. All would have to provide proof when buying their car. Everybody else will have to use trains, buses, trams, their feet, bikes.


It is also vastly selfish to drive around with empty seats.

Though not, perhaps, as selfish as wishing to impose on others a “radical shift in lifestyle” and limited mobility. Unless shrinking a person’s world and robbing them of autonomy is now considered a virtue. Curiously, the Guardian comments are largely fixated with the respective hazards posed by cyclists and motorists, and which party smells more. Ms Ashley and Mr Mullin’s wild fits of authoritarianism, and those of their admirers, don’t cause much fuss.



Four wheels bad, two wheels good.

Wait. That sounds familiar...


Cars should be banned… The only people who should be allowed them are…

I don't think many Guardian readers like democracy.


“I don’t think many Guardian readers like democracy.”

Well, you could easily get the impression that the electorate is a major obstacle for our utopian overlords. Which is why Guardianistas rarely express much interest in, or sympathy with, what voters might actually vote for or choose to do with their own money. And it’s why a juvenile desire to abolish car ownership and autonomous travel is described as “thoughtful.”

It’s not an oversight. It’s who they are.


"My aim would be a return to that brief golden age... ...when our inner cities were habitable"

It's supposed to be Conservatives that cling to absurd rose-tinted images of the past but it seems that these people are equally unaware of the most basic historical facts. The idea that pre-car cities, filled as they were with horse manure, flies and the rotting carcasses of dead horses, were somehow more habitable than todays cities is really quite silly.


unhealthy, dangerous, a lazy and destructive option

Sounds like socialism.


with cars banned from many more roads and parks.

Cars in parks...?


“Cars in parks…?”

I assume she means national parks, as in, say, the Peak District. But the Guild of Evil’s inner circle visits the Peak District regularly, by car, and drivers are generally very considerate. Much more so than in cities. Cyclists and horse riders seem to thrive unmolested. And more to the point, the numerous tiny villages within the Peak District couldn’t survive economically without visitors in cars. Maybe Ms Ashley thinks an impoverished and uninhabited British countryside would be much better. Though for whom, I’m not sure.


"Cars should be banned ... The only people who should be allowed them are...people with 3 children or more (for transporting kids + big weekly shops)"

Gotta love the casual authoritarianism. Really carefully thought through, I feel. Nice incentive for having a 3rd child, though :)

Then there's potential for hand-wringing over how those with fewer than 3 kids are discriminated against, or those who aren't rich enough after feeding all 3 children. (what has happened to the automobile industry by this stage by the way? or will we in the UK do this unilaterally?...sigh) No worries! The government can pay for it!

Still, worrying about what Guardian-commenters say is probably pointless. But then you see that this comment has been heartily recommended by 304 people so far.



Didn't George Monbiot write an anguished column a year or so ago about his (utterly necessary, of course!) purchase of a car once he moved to the country?



“Gotta love the casual authoritarianism. Really carefully thought through, I feel.”

Well, I don’t know about carefully, but yes, it’s been done with a certain enthusiasm. And deciding who will be punished, and who will be punished most, is the reward for all that piety.


I'm leaving for a tour of the UK Friday, must remember to use up as much petrol as I possibly can and chuck out as much carbon omissions as my car is able - Pity I've only a 1 litre engine car. Perhaps I'll keep it on 4th gear, rather than changing to the 5th. Will use a little more petrol.....

Got a Humvee spare anybody? Now that really does suck up fuel, so much so that every petrol station between London and Newcastle would be sucked dry and you'd need a fleet of tankers to resupply them.

Meanwhile Chris Mullen and his ilk can stick their ideas up where the sun don't shine.

Spiny Norman

"Cars should be banned - they are unhealthy, dangerous, a lazy and destructive option. The only people who should be allowed them are:"

Government officials and certain other important Party members.

(What Guardianista "funkins" really means.)


At least he's being honest. Make him "ruler of the world" and you will be stripped of pretty much everything you consider a modern advantage (planes, trains, automobiles). The solution is to never, ever, ever let them have power.


It seems to be catching on at the dear old Grauniad. Edward Sidelsky: "The state, then, should drop the mask of neutrality and come out in favour of the good life. What, after all, do human beings need? The answer is not hard to seek. Human beings need healthy bodies and unfettered minds. They need love, security to plan and innovate, private spaces to "be themselves", and time to do as they please, not as they must. They do not need sushi boxes and pre-washed salad leaves. An economic system geared to the production of baubles and gadgets leads us away from the good life, not towards it."

Maybe it's me. But the life he's describing seems more like one of a pet, than a citizen...

Jeff Guinn

... the sheer misery of modern car commuting.

Why do I suspect Ms. Ashley doesn't have even a passing acquaintance with actual misery?



“What, after all, do human beings need?”

Correction by socialists, apparently. They being the only ones to have escaped our false consciousness and love of shiny things (and pre-washed salad). Everyone else is greedy and stupid, obviously.

Didn’t see that one coming.

What’s funny is that Skidelsky, a lecturer in sociology, would have us believe that his leftwing paternalism is somehow countercultural – “These are deeply unfashionable ideas.” And yet the same ideas have been mouthed by almost every other lecturer in sociology for decades and they’re the go-to template for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Guardian articles. And what’s interesting – aside from Skidelsky’s vanity and question-begging - is the number of Guardian readers who are absolutely sure they know what’s best for us, and what kind of lives we should be permitted to live. Yes, if only the state had more power to correct us, to guide us to the light, everything would be fine. Then we’d be free.

Same old evil, every time.

Kevin Jackson

"It is also vastly selfish to drive around with empty seats."

I don't know how things are on the other side of the ocean, but here in my city in Canada, the buses and light rail drive around with empty seats all the time. But I'm sure that's only because we haven't made their use mandatory.

Bryan Peripherality

Unless shrinking a person’s world and robbing them of autonomy is now considered a virtue.

Oh, Gawd, no, Mr T! Freedom = fumes, flyovers, and filth? For a good look at the kind of autonomy created by the car, see the atomized soul-lessness of Los Angeles or the choking air of a Third World capital. The best summary of cars I've ever seen is "mechanical Jacobins":

They are vile machines, doing to the environment what TV does to our culture: defiling and destroying it. Not that cars don't have cultural effects too. See this character created by the late, great Peter Simple:

J. Bonington Jagworth — leader of the militant Motorists' Liberation Front and defender of "the basic right of every motorist to drive as fast as he pleases, how he pleases and over what or whom he pleases". Suspicious of his Marxist chief-of-staff Royston Cylinder but good friend of Rev John Goodwheel. Anticipated Jeremy Clarkson by three decades.'s_characters

I very strongly recommend Peter Simple to anyone who wants to see what real conservativism and real opposition to Guardianism are like.


Bit tough getting from your Hampstead townhouse to your Tuscan villa without cars or aeroplanes, I would have thought. Still, not to worry - the Car Rationing Bureau will be (over)staffed with Guardianistas who will sympathetically permit the ownership of a car for essentials like this, while turning down the despised proletarian plumber.


Cars should be banned... The only people who should be allowed them are...

I must remember not to start reading the comments under Guardian articles. I always regret it.



“I must remember not to start reading the comments under Guardian articles. I always regret it.”

I try to avoid prolonged exposure. If you stay too long, it feels like you’ve given several pints of blood. But as a glimpse into the Guardian readership’s collective mindset, it can be quite revealing. There are people who think it’s “selfish to drive around with empty seats,” which suggests no-one should make a car journey, or be allowed to make a car journey, until all possible passenger space has been filled, possibly by random passers-by. Others believe that it’s selfish to use a car for journeys of less than six miles. Or ten miles, or two miles. (There’s a great deal of debate as to which exact distance is more sinful.) Two or three readers insist “the private motor vehicle should be criminalised.” And one reader claims that private cars are “killing machines” and that car drivers – all of them - are “complicit in the deaths of countless thousands of people each and every year.”

And so far as I can make out, none of the commenters has been troubled by the authoritarian tone of the article in question.

Sam Duncan

No, Anna, they love what they call “democracy”, when everyone can be forced to the will of the majority (as long as the majority agrees with them, of course; the popularity of the Thatcher and Reagan administrations was due to some unfortunate false consciousness on the part of the Anglosphere).

What they hate is liberty.


I've read some of the Mullin diaries and he comes across as a decent chap but entirely ineffectual (probably the same thing in politics). He seems to have spent his entire time as a government minister worrying about his ministerial car and whether it was strictly necessary.

Andrew Duffin

The only people who should be allowed them are...

Did she actually miss out "politicians and celebrities" from that list, or is their inclusion on it so obvious that it doesn't even need to be stated?

Dr Cromarty

What's the betting that if the Guardianistas' wet dream comes true , Toynbee, Ashley, Milne, Monbiot et al will be driven around in Zil-equivalents on empty roads. Of course, the experience of commuting will be so much more pleasant in the absence of all those crass bourgeois petrolheads.


I think I'll give up driving when I see every leftist eco-twonk traveling to the next big Greenfest in Rio by clipper ship.


Advocates of La Via Dolorosa

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