Do not be surprised that Sadiq Khan is spending £150 million developing Project Detroit, new technology that will enable the introduction of pay-per-mile road charging.
There are three reasons you should have seen this coming. First, he’s very clear about his ultimate goals. He has been so clear, he might as well have drawn you a map and put road signs up. Second, the process of changing our relationship with the private car is well underway; it is death by a thousand cuts, a foot in the door or, as the nudgers know it, ‘radical incrementalism’. Once you learn to identify this (have you read Free Your Mind yet?) you can never unsee it. Third, our entire way of life and national identity is altering, not just private car ownership, everything. You have already felt it, haven’t you? You knew this was coming.
The road map
Sadiq Khan is the Chair of the C40 Cities, a group of alarmingly ‘progressive’ cities. Once you understand what they have planned for your city – London, Paris, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Montreal and more – you are likely to want to pack your bags and find a more sane city to call home. The local governments of these cities want to radically alter your way of life by 2030 to (supposedly) limit global warming. It all comes down to your problematic behaviour and expectations.
The ambitious target for meat and dairy consumption per person in a C40 city is zero. That’s correct Londoners, within six years, Sadiq Khan would prefer you to abstain entirely from meat or dairy. And the ambitious target for clothing consumption is that you will buy three items of clothing per year. Imagine only being able to buy one pair of socks, one pair of pants, and one T-shirt. And the ambitious flight target is one short-haul return flight (less than 1,500 km) every three years per person. The ambitious car ownership target? Another zero.
Clearly Khan is not on track to achieve these ambitious targets. But don’t be surprised that he is allegedly introducing another system to penalise driving, now you understand the direction of travel.
He’s not alone. There is a multitude of reports and press articles pushing forward the regressive idea that we must give up our cars. Sometimes they say the quiet part out loud. In the House of Lords report ‘In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals’, one proposal reads:
The measures that could dissuade private vehicle use include:
- Changing rules on the use of roads, such as reduced speed limits, school streets, low traffic neighbourhoods and other measures…
- Road pricing, congestion charging, low emission zones, higher parking costs, workplace parking levies and other charges.
That was all about dissuading private vehicle use. It is destined to be too costly and inconvenient for the ordinary folk.
Radical incrementalism is the very essence of nudging: tiny changes can have an enormous cumulative impact. A thousand nudges make a shove. One study, for example, found that people were at least 25% more likely to agree to put a large safe-driving sign in their front garden if they had agreed to a smaller request beforehand, such as signing a petition or accepting a bumper sticker. If you want people to do something, it’s better to make a smaller, more reasonable request of them first; once committed, they’ll follow through on the larger ask later.
You think you won’t pay per mile? You will. You see, the problem is you already agreed to Ulez, Lez and the congestion charge. You’re nearly there. CCTV cameras were arguably one of the early precursors to the mess we are in. They were “just to keep us safe” – and now, no safer, there are legions more cameras trained on our cars.
As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Where is this going? Project Detroit is not just to squeeze more money out of you – although it is going to be a gigantic money-spinner for City Hall — but the goal is to force you to give up your car.
There’s so much liberal hand-wringing and post-modern self-flagellating, it would be easy to forget humans have pretty much never had it as good as we do in modern Britain.
A thousand years ago most people were of the peasant or serf classes. Serfs toiled hard in terrible living conditions because, in a violent era, they wanted the protection given by their lord — that was their meagre social contract.
The serfs of old ate gruel, grains and seasonal vegetables, perhaps a bit of pork if they were lucky. They wore rough clothes homemade from hemp, wool and fur — disturbingly similar to the C40 Cities’ ambitious targets for 2030. Serfs also did not have freedom of movement. They were not permitted to relocate without the lord’s approval. They were too busy working his land, as well as their own little patch, to go for a wander. It was the medieval version of a 15 minute city.
Of course, it’s important not to overstate the comparison between a medieval serf and a modern Londoner. In Khan’s utopic 2030 London, a
serf citizen will enjoy the considerable privilege of a return short haul flight once every three years. There were no flights for English serfs in the Dark Ages.
Sadiq Khan is always at great pains to explain that these restrictions of our freedoms are for our own protection. Just as the medieval lord protected his serfs from marauders, Khan is protecting us from climate change, low air quality and road traffic accidents. Medieval marauders were very real indeed, but climate threat is not visible on the streets of London, which are not flooded by the Thames, the air quality is actually very good (less so on the London Underground), and the seasons roll on fairly predictably despite alarmingly-coloured weather maps. In essence, if you look out of your window, there doesn’t appear to be a climate threat. Thus, to generate a sense of urgency he produces modelling, cooked-up numbers and a statue for one poor solitary girl with air quality on her death certificate.
In Techno Feudalism, Yanis Varoufakis argues that capitalism is dead and a new economic era has already begun. Capitalism replaced feudalism, only to now be replaced by techno-feudalism. I think many people can feel a squeeze on freedom in one form or another, a tightening of the net, a hazy shift in power from class-based politics to Big Tech’s algorithms, from gold to data, from Westminster to Davos. It’s hard to put your finger on just what is happening in the midst of it happening, but you feel it.
Human societies are cyclical and freedoms expand and contract. History shows us that. The systems that could be used to restrict freedom are technological – surveillance cameras, Project Detroit’s pay-per-mile capability, CBDCs, digital ID, AI – but the result will be a feudalism which would be depressingly familiar to our medieval ancestors.
London is not Sadiq Khan’s fiefdom. We should permit those that veer backward to feudalism nowhere near Government.
Free Your Mind: The new world of manipulation and how to resist it, is out in paperback on February 15th. This article was first published on Laura’s Substack page the Free Mind. Subscriber here.