Sunday, 10 May 2009

Politics on wheels.

It’s in the news. It’s everywhere. You don’t have to be a sage to know that motorcar sales are down by a third on this time last year. On television, there is montage after montage of thousands upon thousands of gleaming, unsold vehicles in factory forecourts, all over the world. Manufacturers, governments, et al, are doing everything in their power to get the motor industry moving again.

For the manufacturer, it is a simple, bread and butter thing. I don’t know how much it costs to make one vehicle but I can guess the manufactory plant is highly expensive, has been heavily invested in and needs to be continually sweated so that everybody gets his money back – and then some.

The reason for governmental panic is more obscure. Even an aging vehicle needs to be taxed, insured and fed with fuel, thus ensuring a stead flow of revenue to the public coffers. What this government and every other dreads is the spectacle of mass unemployment among semi-skilled – mostly – males, an army of angry, restless and redundant workers, calling out for a change in the system that has failed them. Whichever way you look at it, a car is a highly political thing.

It is not a happy picture, and is one that no-one wants to see, and is most likely the reason for the plethora of mixed messages that the government has been sending out. In a recently vanished time of plenty, they were encouraging us to exercise more, to consume less in both terms of food and fuel. Now, they are guaranteeing significant sums of money everyone propitious enough to buy a new motorcar.

I had thought that the age of the motorcar was over. Just as we have been through the age of the mineral, vegetable, animal and human, the roads will no longer be dominated by hordes of bog-standard vehicles, but instead a mix of bicycles and ‘intelligent’ cars, attuned to specialist and special needs. Redundant plant and surplus labour can redeployed in one of the new ‘green’ industries, e.g., solar panel manufacturing. It is all easy to say, of course, but we have to face the future, and that future might just be now.

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