Steve Norris is recommending that the Tory leadership embraces ‘eco-taxation’ and ceases to be "the provisional wing of the Automobile Association". Not content with taking on the car lobby the former transport minister also wants serious taxation of the already troubled airline industry. Referring to the owners of Ryanair and EasyJet he told yesterday’s Guardian:
"Mr O’Leary won’t like this, Sir Stelios won’t like this, but every environmentalist will regard this as absolutely essential. You do have to avoid creating a culture based on cheap aviation which will be as pernicious as the way of life based on car ownership has been in terms of urban planning. We’ve now got a generation living in France, working three days a week here, [which] thinks nothing of going to Prague for a stag night."
Mr Norris advocates a shift in taxation worth "tens of billions of
pounds". He notes a thirty year shift in the relative costs of
different forms of transport that has benefited the car. From 1975 to
2004 there was a 11% real terms drop in motoring costs but a 66% to 70%
rise in bus and train fares.
Should David Cameron embrace Mr Norris’ recommendations he will be at odds with Conservative opinion. Populus has found that Tory voters oppose ‘increasing the cost of motoring to encourage less driving’ by 65% to 33%.
Noting John Howard’s success in building public standing on the back of tough decisions, ConservativeHome does, however, believe that adopting Mr Norris’ recommendations could give David Cameron real credibility on the environment. ConservativeHome sets three key tests for this shift to green taxation:
- There must be matching cuts in other forms of taxation – particularly those that fall on lower income strivers. An adviser to Downing Street is already relishing the Tories piling taxes on sunseeking families according to John Rentoul in The Independent: "[David Cameron] can have his windmill on top of his house and we’ll have Crawley and the north Kent marginals, thank you very much."
- The changes to taxation must be designed to drive technological change so that they produce cleaner forms of transportation rather than a restriction in travel for its own sake.
- That there is a plan to internationalise the resulting technology. There is limited benefit in Britain reducing its environmental impact if China and India, for example, continue to pollute without restriction.