In 1980, Ronald Reagan asked the question: ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ This simple enquiry reversed President Carter’s slight lead in the polls, and ushered in a new era in American politics. This will also be the question that next May’s General Election debate will revolve around. And for motorists, the answer is clearly ‘yes’.
It is fair to say that, under the previous Labour government, the needs of the motorist were ignored. Fuel duty was increased four times during Labour’s last sixteen months in office. Throughout their time in power, there was damaging underinvestment in our roads.
But this Government has responded to motorists’ needs: next year, petrol will be 20p a litre cheaper than it would have been under Labour’s plans (following a historic freeze and cut in fuel duty); over £1 billion is being invested in our roads; and extra money has been released to deal with potholes.
This is a government on the side of the motorist. And these measures aren’t just helping devoted petrol-heads, but also easing the cost of living for hard-pressed families. 70 per cent of adults have a driving licence. Trips by car accounted for 79 per cent of the distance travelled in 2011. With statistics like these, it’s clear that owning a car is an expensive essential, not a luxury.
One issue that continues to pop up in my postbag is parking, and I have recently been campaigning to stop rip-off hospital car parking charges. I am pleased that there has been some movement by the government. However, it remains to be seen whether hospitals will follow the new guidelines issued by the Department of Health which say that charges should be fair, transparent and offer significant discounts to regular patients and staff. Similarly, keeping the cost of parking in our town centres down should be prioritised. Excessive charges damage the high street and harm jobs.
This Government is only just reversing Labour’s damaging legacy for motorists. More than any other Government in decades, it has done everything possible to help – but we must not stop here. When economic conditions allow, fuel duty should continue to be cut, roads must be invested in, and parking matters must be addressed.
Extending policies such as these is as much about social justice as about cars – and politicians should forget this at their peril.
- Guest Blogger: Robert Halfon. Conservative MP for Harlow and Parliamentary Private Secretary to George Osborne.