SOME years ago, researching an article for the Yorkshire Dales National Park on the alarming numbers of hill farmers packing in their hard and often thankless lives and moving to the towns, I found myself driving up a steep track in the Howgill hills to a farmhouse I could just see perched on the horizon.
I was in a low-slung estate car whose exhaust scraped like chalk on a blackboard over the surface of broken rocks - and that was the good bit. When I came to a ford across a rushing beck some 18 inches deep, I was forced to take to the old shank's pony and I decided, that day, to get a 4 x 4. After all, I make my living in the countryside and I need the right tools for the job.
I do, however, despise the urban-owners of so-called Chelsea tractors - or "bully-wagons" as they are known in my neighbourhood - because they are a menace on the school run and take up huge space on the supermarket car park, the two journeys they are almost exclusively used for. I don't like the noise they make, the fumes they emit, and the aggression with which they are driven against any vehicle smaller than them - i.e. cars, motor bikes and bicycles.
So I bought a small, highly efficient, Japanese-built (of course!) Honda HRV, which has a 1600 cc variable technology engine, which tunes itself to use less fuel (and create fewer emissions) in town, and only clicks into four-wheel-drive mode if its electronics detect wheel-slip anywhere. Otherwise, it is front-wheel drive like most tiny hatchbacks.
On Wednesday this week, I paid the road tax on this ideal country vehicle and it came to a staggering £190, almost double the cost of a year ago. Reason: Chancellor Gordon Brown has lumped me in with Chelsea tractor townies and is no doubt delighted that he has found yet another way of ripping off a countryman whilst paying him absolutely zero in return.
I had to tax the car on line (which, I admit, is a good service) but I would have still gone to the post office and waited a long time - just to help keep the post office open. As I would have done last month, when I coughed up £130 for my TV licence for the BBC I never watch, and as I did some years ago for my salmon fishing licence.
All these services have, of course, been stripped from the post office which means, it is estimated, that some 4,000 rural post branches will close (See a Week in the country). Figures emerged last week that suggest that, of those, only one in 40 will be in Labour-controlled Parliamentary constituencies - so who cares about villagers in Tory or Lib-Dem areas?
However, all these factors are mind-numbingly insignificant when it came to the doom-and-gloom Armageddon forecast by economist Sir Nicholas Stern on Tuesday. In his 500-page report, which I have no intention of trying to read, he says we face the end of life as we know it unless we take drastic action against global warming caused by man-made greenhouse gasses, mainly carbon dioxide.
...they are a menace on the school run and take up huge space on the supermarket car park, the two journeys they are almost exclusively used for...
Now just why an economist has been called in to make such pronouncements might be a mystery to someone less cynical than I. After all, despite government claims, there is by no means a worldwide scientific consensus that human activity is to blame for global warming - it could be a perfectly normal natural cycle. And anyway, Britain produces only 2% of the world's CO2.
But guess who sat by Sir Nick's side as he predicted Doomsday? None other than Mr Stealth Tax himself, Gordon Brown, who in less than ten years has taken Britain from the lowest taxed major nation in Europe to the highest. And the proverbial Cheshire Cat's grin was but an agonised scowl compared to the happy leer on the Chancellor's lips.
For Sir Nick says that the only way we can fight global warming is by paying higher taxes. How much he did not say - but one expert I read this week estimated it could be as high as £1,400 per person per annum, which is more like robbery with violence than stealth.
Where all this money would go, God only knows. Brown has already disappeared billions to no known effect but he still needs more cash like a vampire needs more blood. And, here's a bet that is an absolute certainty, not a penny would go on countryside projects.
If he needs all these extra billions Brown, either as Chancellor or Prime Minister, has the answer in his own hands: scrap the index-linked, retirement at 60 (or even 55) plans of millions of civil servants who pensions funds are in debt (the last time I saw it counted) to a tune of £40 billion!
We country folk have already paid owt too much for nowt and simply cannot afford to feather-bed the wealthy retirement of 40% of our working population AND fork out for the 98% of the world's CO2 we don't create. Something, somewhere, has got to give - but giving is patently a concept that Gordon Brown cannot grasp.
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Dear Mr Sheard, I read your article with interest. I too grew up in the countryside and think you have a very valid point on emissions banding and chelsea tractors!
However, it is a shame you misunderstand the scientific consensus on anthropogenic (man-made) climate change, and have no intention of reading the Stern report. And the fact that we emit only 2% of global co2 is true. However this should not be used as an argument not to act - we have historically contributed to climate change and through setting an example, we can provide international leadership to get others on board.
The £1,400 per capita figure is uncosted and unrealistic.
Anonymous - Name supplied
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