Blair admits forcing road pricing would be 'kamikaze politics'

by KIRSTY WALKER

Last updated at 19:36 01 March 2007


Tony Blair has admitted it would be "kamikaze politics" to force though his unpopular road pricing scheme in the face of an unprecedented public revolt.

The Prime Minister insisted he had learned lessons from the Tories' humiliating poll tax climbdown - when Margaret Thatcher's government was forced into retreat in the late 1980s.

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However, Mr Blair refused to rule out the introduction of the scheme which could see motorists charged up to £1.50 for every mile they travel at peak times.

In an interview with Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond, Mr Blair said he could not "railroad" a sceptical British public into accepting the policy.

He said: "Is road pricing the right answer? I'm not saying it is - I'm saying let's look at it. I don't think this is an issue you railroad through against massive public objection.

"The poll tax is a good example. In the end it didn't matter whether it was the right policy or the wrong policy, the public would not buy it."

He added: "I wouldn't personally as a politician engage in that type of kamikaze politics. But I'm not closing the door on the debate."

Mr Blair said he had not been surprised by the fact that 1.8 million people had signed a petition on the Downing Street website opposing the plans because of his experience during the fuel protests in 2000.

"This is a major part of their lives, it is a major part of their expenditure so you mess around with the motorist at your peril," he said. "The reason I am having this debate is because I can see huge problems looming up ahead.

"There are six million more cars on the road than when we came to office and over the next 20 years there will be millions more."

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister believes that first and foremost people have to recognise that doing nothing is not an option, if you look at the projections for congestion."

The spokesman said the Government would not react in a "knee-jerk way" to the anti-road pricing petition, but would continue to try to find a means of dealing with congestion in a way which is seen by the public as fair.

"There's a process of education for government, for the public and for local authorities that we all have to go through. Simply reacting in a knee-jerk way to what people think the Government is proposing is not the right way to go."

So many people signed their names on the Downing Street electronic petition against Road Tax that the website crashed in mid-February.

The Prime Minister pledged to send a reply email to every person that participated on the online petition. A copy of the reply is posted on the website.

The revolt is over plans for a 'poll tax on wheels' which would see tagged cars tracked by satellite or roadside beacon and charged up to £1.50 a mile at peak times.

Monthly bills would be sent to motorists' homes with gas-guzzlers and especially 'Chelsea tractors' expected to be hit particularly hard.

Downing Street set up its petition facility in November last year as part of a public relations exercise to show that the Government is prepared to listen to 'people power'.

A few days later, accounts manager Peter Roberts set up the anti-toll petition shortly after joining the Association of British Drivers and emailed the link to about 30 friends and colleagues.

Mr Roberts said he "didn't believe a word" the Prime Minister said in his interview.

He said: "He is not going to be around when all this goes through. I am sure he is just trying to appease everyone who signed the petition. He is trying to say the right things, but I don't believe him.

"The only thing I do agree is that it is Kamikaze politics to push this policy though and this issue is going to kill them. The public are going to show Labour just what they think of it at the May elections."

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