By John Dales
While I admire the Evening Standard’s campaigning about illiteracy and the dispossessed, I’m dismayed at its one-sided pseudo-campaign about Westminster City Council’s parking proposals.
This is typified in Monday’s Standard by a news article and an editorial fashioned from a predictable, politically opportunistic, and self-serving letter from Labour Councillors calling for the Conservative leader to resign.
Underlining this bias, the ‘Facts & Figures’ briefing I’ve seen devotes 20 pages to personal opinion and one to ‘research’. The only relevant ‘fact’ revealed by the former is that people prefer not to pay to park (shock!), while the caveated figures in the Centre for Economics and Business Research report, based on many assumptions, aren’t ‘economic facts’ by any definition. Yet the Standard made lurid headlines from them on 7 December.
As for its attacks on the Council, the Standard should surely be above personal mockery (‘Hey! Cllr Barrow is weirdo who probably has an old parking meter at home’) and mere innuendo about the purpose of the parking proposals.
Obscured by the self-interest, self-pity and self-righteousness, there are of course some really important issues. One is the impact on staff earning low pay for unsociable hours. Another is the impact on residents. Another is that the ‘VIP’ days have shown – by ‘economic facts’ known as till receipts – that having fewer cars around can have a positive impact on West End businesses. But sadly, as Sam Leith said in an unrelated piece in Monday’s Standard, ‘the big issues just get lost in all this outrage’.
More balance, please.
You don’t expect balance from a newspaper any more than you expect honey from a wasp’s nest. Gone are the days when newspapers sought to provide the public with unbiased information (if that time ever really existed). Every newspaper these days has an agenda which it pursues, with a degree of obfuscation of the truth. Along with critical thinking, school children should be taught appropriate mistrust of the media.
Cars and car parking are one of the plagues of modern life. Cars pollute the environment and shorten our lives; car parks disfigure our city and parked cars clutter and obstruct our streets. It is not simply a question of whether Westminster or any other council is right to charge parking fees (though such measures may be helpful as interim solutions) but of tackling the nation’s absurd obsession with motor cars. I would like to see large swathes of London made pedestrian only (with appropriate measures to provide necessary assistance for the disabled). Half-measures such as the congestion charge are inadequate: only a ban on cars will serve. We need a good solid campaign to get people out of their cars and onto public transport.
I might also add that neither yellow lines nor parking fees will serve any purpose whatsoever if they are not enforced. This is the weak point in most areas, namely that councils make rules but fail to enforce them so that motorists learn to ignore them and then feel aggrieved on the rare occasions when they are caught out.
Silver Tiger: The flaw fatal to your argument is that public transport is under-funded, over-priced and at times unsafe. Thus, unless your “campaign” can provide a sound game plan for finanicial investment other than incoprotaing ever-increasing fares and without more stain on local tax payers then it is pie-in-the sky. So where is this money to come from?
Your strategy for dealing with the press is equally contradictory. If one is critical thinking (as John Dales article illustrates) then you obviate the need for sweeping generalisation QED “that all school children should be taught to mistrust…”. That is a dogma not a form of thinking, particularly when we live is a society where trust of others is one of it main lubricants.
John Dales: excellent. The emotional over-play by the Standard has obscured central issues that will remain with us, particularly residents, for a long time to come.
David: You could add that all forms of transport are at times unsafe.
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