The traditional media silly season occurs in late summer, when a shortage of politics news is made up for with frivolousness. Late December 2023 has seen those two supposed opposites merge to form a comeback by the spirit of August. I blame global warming.
A classic bit of space-filling nonsense has been provided by the Telegraph, once regarded as a sober organ of serious Conservatism, now racing to the bottom with the Express and the Mail to be the house journal of Continuity UKIP, with all the parallel universe thinking that implies.
Its daily prayer for a new anti-ULEZ angle was answered in the form of a letter from Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko to his London counterpart, asking if motor vehicles set to be destroyed under the latter’s scrappage scheme – which financially compensates Londoners who replace them with cars or vans that comply with air quality standards – could instead be sent to Ukraine to help with the war effort against Russia.
The “story” was that City Hall said it couldn’t oblige, because the Greater London Authority Act, the London mayoralty’s foundational legislation, does not allow the ULEZ scheme to be altered to enable the international export of non-compliant cars or vans.
This inspired the Telegraph to claim that Sadiq Khan had deliberately “blocked” Klitschko’s request, as if British politicians are at perfect liberty to choose which laws of the land to obey and which to ignore, as if Partygate had never happened.
Conservative mayoral candidate Susan Hall was equally outraged by the Khan administration’s pathetic refusal to treat parliamentary statute as if it didn’t exist, like we live in a democracy or something. She called it “absurd” and the disobliging rule a “legal quirk”.
I asked Hall’s campaign to identify the “quirk” in question and to confirm that the Tory candidate believes the current Mayor should just ignore it. That was seven days ago. As yet, there has been no reply.
Then came a twist to this twittish tale the Telegraph won’t have anticipated: Ben Wallace MP, lately UK defence secretary, took to Ex-Twitter to make known that having “had a good call” with the Mayor’s office, “we need the Government, not the Mayor” to make it possible for cars lined-up for scrappage, most especially 4x4s, to be donated to Ukraine instead of crushed.
There followed a letter by Khan and Wallace to transport secretary Mark Harper, whose performance in that role is in growing danger of making predecessors Grant Shapps and Chris Grayling look sincere and proficient by comparison.
Requesting Harper’s support with “making it possible for Londoners, and others across the country, to donate suitable vehicles to Ukraine” the unlikely brothers-in-arms laid out some specifics. “This could most quickly be done by altering the national regulations for the Certificate of Destruction,” they wrote, referring to the DVLA document which proves a vehicle has been crushed.
“Sadiq Khan backs down” blustered the Telegraph in response, lacking either the bottle to own up to its original “story” being a dud or being so lost in its own world of alternative facts it still believes it.
The daft rag’s dismalness was rivalled by Harper’s reply to the Khan-Wallace request, which was sent to Khan alone. “Given your ULEZ scrappage scheme has been in effect since August 2023, I am surprised that you have not made contact until now,” he peevishly penned, as if somehow national scrappage regulations are nothing to do with him.
He also informed Khan that Michael Gove, too, has dropped him a line, “seeking legal clarity from you on precisely what legal barriers you believe you face”, as if the problem had somehow not already been identified and spelled out in black and white. And if the words ‘Certificate of Destruction” were so hard to understand, why not just give Wallace a call?
Still, that’s our Mark at transport: sees what he wants to see, believes what he wants to believe, puts political point-scoring before getting 4x4s to Kyiv every time.
This is a man who insists the private sector will pay for HS2 tunnels to Euston, despite Sir John Armitt, chair of the government’s own expert advisory group, saying publicly it won’t; a man who solemnly declares that the kindly, leaf-eating concept of the 15-minute-city might indeed be a shadow world government plot to stop freeborn Englishmen driving to Tesco.
He probably thinks Father Christmas is real too. And when no presents appear in his fireplace tomorrow morning, he won’t have the faintest idea why.