Monday, November 05, 2007

Does Ruth Kelly wear a hair shirt?

Perhaps more than any other in recent times, this government's attempts to resolve the inherent contradictions of capitalism through spin - if not concrete reality - are becoming less and less credible. Last week* saw the release of a discussion paper by the Department for Transport that is a perfect illustration of a new and what will prove to be intractable conundrum - how to expand road, rail and air networks whilst seeking to curb CO2 emissions.

The paper signals a disdain for the rail alternatives and sees a future where 'decarbonised' automobiles will need to be accommodated on an ever widening and expanding motorway and road network. Furthermore, they are seeking to fund this expansion through private investment - a logical conclusion to the 'Design Build Finance Operate' initiatives of the 1990s. It's perhaps not so coincidental that two of the largest private road building firms have been courting each other in recent weeks and now look like they will merge shortly: Carillion (contractors for the Longdendale Bypass) & McAlpine (whose 'Green' claim-to-fame is that they built the Eden Project).

Let's be clear: even if all motor vehicles became carbon neutral first thing tomorrow, we'd still be against the expansion of the road network. The motor industry has been a key staple of capitalism since the end of World War 2. Automobiles are the pre-eminent product in this economic system, and the motor industry itself is a key locus for the expansion of capital and the accumulation of surplus value (the primary preoccupation of capitalism). Nothing can stand in it's way, whether it is carbon emitting or carbon neutral, and it could quite conceivably be the latter within the foreseeable future.

The freedom that the car offers is an individual freedom only, and one that can only exist without taking away the freedoms of everyone else. In this way, the State makes a bargain that in return for the ability to go anywhere at any time you choose, unspoilt communal spaces will be increasingly tarmacked over. But now it seems the bargain is going to be even more bizarre than that - the State will guarantee both the freedom to travel and the freedom from anxiety that one will not be polluting the environment. As long as one closes one's eyes to the fact that the landscape around us is being destroyed, it will be possible to have a clean conscience about levels of CO2.

In this case, the empress who has no clothes is Ruth Kelly. In the recent past, she has had the gall to say she receives 'spiritual support' from an organisation that provided both spiritual & political support for the formerly Fascist governments of Spain and Chile. This presumably makes her well qualified to promote the cause of irrationality in the style of the Cosa Nostra, a hallmark of this government's authoritarian approach to almost any issue.

After all, if she has a pang of conscience, she'll no doubt just pull the cilice ever tighter.

*on no more a conspicuous date than All Hallows Eve!

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