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Wales does a reverse Robin Hood

The mythical outlaw of Sherwood Forest famously fought back against tyranny by robbing from the rich to give to the poor.  Social democratic governments of yore did something similar by using the power of the state to collect taxes in place of the brute force of the bow and the sword.  But in the topsy-turvy world of Welsh Labour politics, where tax-collecting powers are shunned by the more or less permanent Labour cabal, stealing from the poor to subsidise the rich is the order of the day.

Parts of Wales, along with Cornwall, are the only places in Western Europe to have levels of economic deprivation so great that they qualify for European funding programmes designed to lift the former-Soviet regions of Eastern Europe out of poverty.  It is no coincidence that those parts of Wales, along with Cornwall, produced some of the highest percentages in favour of leaving the European Union; in large part because successive Labour administrations failed to channel EU funding to where it was needed.  “Friends” of the Labour administration did very well out of the deal, while the people of Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil continued to go hungry.

The latest variant of Welsh Labour’s reverse Robin Hood approach comes in the form of a £2 million subsidy for some of the most affluent Welsh motorists – those who can afford the £26,000+ price of an electric car.  According to Peter Shuttleworth at the BBC:

“Installing rapid electric car charging points is “critical” to the Welsh economy as Wales’ network is “lagging behind” the rest of the the UK.”

However, one of the commenters on the BBC article nails this lie:

“CRUCIAL to the Welsh economy? Is that a joke?

“There are countless things important to the economy and this is nowhere near top of the list. Electric cars are priced beyond the range of most motorists anyway.”

Indeed, the map that Shuttleworth reproduces to show the current and proposed fast charging infrastructure demonstrates that there is no need for government intervention, since market forces are doing fine – the current network of chargers is exactly where we would expect them to be – along the M4 corridor in the south and along the A55 corridor in the north; where most of Wales’ long-distance journeys take place.  Moreover, private fast charging service providers actively seek feedback from their users about where to locate charging stations in future.  If there was demand for fast chargers in Brecon, Builth Wells, Llandrindod Wells and Newtown, consumers would be requesting them and charging companies would be providing them.

One is tempted to conclude that the Welsh Government’s desire to have the public stump up the cash for a chain of fast charging stations across rural Wales owes more to “the usual suspects” wanting the public to pay for their lavish transport arrangements.  After all, it wouldn’t be the first time the Welsh Government has obliged its impoverished electorate to pick up the tab for a wasteful and unnecessary transport service.

The useful idiots in the green tech movement will no doubt claim that the public provision of an electric vehicle infrastructure is an essential step to the imaginary high-tech/low-carbon future that they fantasise about.  The trouble is that as much carbon is emitted in the manufacturing of cars as in running them.  Moreover, the carbon cost of manufacturing electric cars is higher than for internal combustion ones.  So while there is a carbon reduction from switching from petrol/diesel to electric (assuming the power is generated by renewables or nuclear) it is no miracle cure for our environmental predicament.

Indeed, the desire to promote electric cars – even if, as in wales, it means diverting funds away from more pressing issues like homelessness, social care and employment – is merely another manifestation of the insane pursuit of a fossil fuel economy that operates without fossil fuels.  The automobile is, after all, the totem of the oil age.  In both transport and economic terms, however, there are far better options – not least hydrogen-electric buses similar to those already operating in several UK cities and electrifying and reopening Wales’ railway connections.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, £2 million in public funding is a drop in the ocean (although it could go a long way to finding homes for our growing number of homeless families).  Nevertheless, even this spending on something as frivolous as electric car chargers (which the private sector would provide if there was demand for them) demonstrates the same lack of analysis that plagues governments across the world.

As we are hit from the three sides of our insoluble trilemma – climate change, resource and energy depletion, and economic failure – futile attempts to make the future the same as the past – but without fossil fuels –need an honest appraisal of what is possible.  That is, what out of our current arrangements will be sustainable as temperatures and sea level rise, key resources like energy and minerals become increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain, and the value of the fiat currencies we are used to paying for them with fall to historical lows?  We have yet to even have this discussion; still less develop realistic (i.e. in conformity with the laws of physics) policy.

Then again, looking west from the window of the First Minister’s office in Cardiff Bay, you can see row after row of new housing developments on land that is already guaranteed to be under water by the end of the century as a result of sea level rise – along with the welsh Government debating chamber itself.  Given that level of absence of foresight, what difference does a few more years of publicly subsidised motoring for the wealthy really make?

As you made it to the end…

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