Revolutions tend to start off slowly before an eruption takes place. And the growing anger building up among Britain’s 30 million-plus motorists is one that the Government ignores at its peril.
Towards the end of the Cold War, I was in the Soviet Union to report on a visit by then Education Secretary Kenneth Baker, who was carrying out his own schools revolution in Britain.
In a packed lecture hall at Moscow State University, Baker delivered a speech depicting everyday life in the UK where young schoolchildren could photocopy their work (there was only one photocopier in the entire university and permission was needed to use it to avoid the publishing of seditious material).
Joys of the open road: Drivers set out on the London to Brighton run. This year’s event takes place on Sunday
Then came Baker’s masterstroke when he explained how, in the earliest days of the motor car, the forces of reaction tried to stifle progress of the new machine by insisting that a man walk in front ‘carrying a Red Flag’.
The hall erupted in cheers — as the audience instantly made the link between the fluttering red symbol of revolutionary socialism and the bureaucratic brake put on early automobiles.
He was also referring to an event commemorated by the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, which takes place this Sunday, organised by the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall with the support of auctioneers RM Sotheby’s.
To many, it is simply a vintage automotive jollity with a touch of dressing up, but what it actually celebrates is the first revolutionary act — and possibly not the last — of the motorist.
The first celebration – called the ‘Emancipation Run’ – was held on a wet Saturday, November 14, 1896
This year more than 320 pioneering ‘horseless carriages’ from the dawn of motoring will leave Hyde Park in London at sunrise on Sunday and make the same 60-mile journey to Brighton
Every vehicle dates pre-1905 – some powered by combustion engines, others by steam and even electricity
Making a start
The first celebration — called the ‘Emancipation Run’ — was held on a wet Saturday, November 14, 1896.
After much campaigning, a group of early motorists set off from London to Brighton to celebrate the passing into law of the Locomotive On Highways Act.
This year’s run will follow the same 60-mile route to Brighton as the first event 125 years ago
This increased the speed limit for ‘light locomotives’ from 4mph to 14mph, effectively ending centuries of horse-drawn transport and allowing motorised vehicles ‘the freedom of the road’.
Significantly, it removed the need for a man to proceed in front of the vehicle, at walking pace, carrying the hated Red Flag.
The original limit (and the Red Flag) had been introduced to control the speed of huge steam tractors and threshing machines when moving between farms. But technology had advanced so quickly the law had failed to keep pace.
The Autocar magazine, founded a year earlier, celebrated the motorists’ victory with a special ‘red-letter-day’ issue, printed entirely in red ink, noting: ‘Today… marks the throwing open of the highways and byeways of our beautiful country.’
Ben Cussons, chairman of the Royal Automobile Club which has organised the event since 1930, said: ‘It was a seminal moment.
‘The new law was a life-changer in so many ways — it totally transformed the perspectives of social mobility and personal freedoms and, of course, spawned exciting new industries.’
Unfinished business for drivers today
Petrol and diesel prices have soared to record highs. The fuel protests of 2000 nearly brought the country to its knees.
Treated like cash-cows
From clean air charges to car-park expenses, inappropriate speed limits, poor signage on bus lanes, yellow-box junction entrapment and charging for dropping off at airports.
The drive to electric
The sale of petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2030. But how will those of modest means afford a new or even second-hand electric car? And where are sufficient charging points coming from?
Motoring groups warned that the Government’s cut-price system to boost road capacity would put lives at risk. A damning report by the Commons transport committee published this week proves this.
Narrowing roads, introducing cycle-lanes, setting up ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ and re-phasing traffic lights all makes life difficult for motorists.
Revised Highway Code
The new Highway Code has been criticised for appearing to put all the blame on motorists even when other road users — such as cyclists — may be at fault. It sets up a ‘hierarchy of road users’.
This year more than 320 pioneering ‘horseless carriages’ from the dawn of motoring will leave Hyde Park in London at sunrise on Sunday and make the same 60-mile journey to Brighton as those early motorists 125 years ago.
Every vehicle dates pre-1905 — some powered by combustion engines, others by steam and even electricity. The oldest car lining up in Hyde Park will be an intrepid single-cylinder 1894 Benz.
By tradition, the celebration begins with the tearing up of a Red Flag by one or more of the participating celebrities.
This year the honour is expected to fall to the fastest man on Earth, former Wing Commander Andy Green OBE, the World Land Speed Record holder, who topped 760mph in Thrust SSC back in 1997.
Tomorrow (November 6 on the eve of the run) the UK’s biggest free-to-view celebration of the automobile takes place — London’s Regent Street Motor Show (regentstreetmotorshow.com) — featuring cars old and modern as well as attractions for visitors of all ages.
Arrival: Two vintage motorists negotiate the the final yards of the run along Brighton’s seafront
There have been motoring revolts since the beginning of the industry, of course.
And the delivery driver shortage showed recently just how fragile supply lines can be when there is even a hint of panic buying.
Howard Cox, founder of the campaign group FairFuel UK, says motorists are getting increasingly angry, and frustrated given that they are ‘demonised’ by local and national government policymakers.
‘Petrol and diesel drivers face an uncontrolled pump pricing lottery, enforced local authority congestion, and clean air charges,’ he said.
‘UK drivers are still some of the highest taxed motorists in the world, so the Chancellor should make a start by cutting fuel duty by 3p a litre to ease the burden of record fuel prices.’
As the 125th annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run gets under way to celebrate one motoring revolution, the question for today’s politicians is will they risk raising the red flag on motorists again?
- More details of Sunday’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run: veterancarrun.com/
Mini makes plan to go big in Britain
Britain is accelerating towards an electric Mini future as the UK car-maker sets out bold plans for production at its Oxford factory.
The legendary car manufacturer owned by Germany’s BMW is on course to bring five new cars to its revamped UK factory.
A new large electric zero-emissions Mini SUV — based on the roomy Vision Urbanaut prototype shown at September’s Munich Motor Show — is to join the line-up announced on Wednesday.
Future: The Mini Urbanaut SUV prototype is based on the roomy Urbanaut prototype first revealed last year
Mini also released the first photos of its new-generation three-door hatch which is expected to be built in both pure electric and combustion engine forms at the UK plant, as well as in electric-only form at a new factory opening in China in 2023.
The next generation Mini Countryman — larger than the existing model and with electric and combustion engine options — will be launched in 2023 and built in Leipzig in Germany — making it the first Mini to be built in the country.
But Mini said: ‘All other Mini models, including the Mini Convertible set to launch in 2025, will be produced at the Mini Plant in Oxford, which remains the heart of Mini production.’
Currently, around 40 per cent of Mini sales are in the SUV and crossover market, and that is set to soar.
Setting out its ten-year strategy, Mini said electric vehicles will make up 50 per cent of total global Mini sales by 2027.
In 2025, the last new Mini model powered with a combustion engine will be launched.
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