The furore around heartless Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s remark on the BBC’s Marr show yesterday that there are no unemployed people has obscured some of the other warning signals about his budget plans that might otherwise have drawn attention.
One in particular was Hammond’s unseemly haste to get driverless cars on the road within just four years or less, in spite of Marr’s reminder to him that they are considered ‘really really dangerous’:
Hammond had to admit that he’s never even been in a driverless car – yet he’s planning to offer what must be a huge payment or incentive to have driverless, unattended vehicles on the road within four years – surely a massive rush, in terms of the development and testing needed to ensure that a driverless car can cope with all the variables and potential chaos of a live road situation.
Last year, after the Brexit vote, Tories desperate for evidence that they weren’t overseeing a complete disaster clung gratefully to an announcement that Nissan was planning to invest in its Sunderland production facility. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn had said in September 2016 that any investment decision before the outcome of Brexit was known would need to be financially compensated by the government. That demand was endorsed by the car-makers’ trade association.
Then, after meetings in Downing Street where ‘assurances’ were somehow given that Nissan would not lose out if tariffs were applied to UK exports after Brexit while the government also claimed there had been no ‘secret deal’ or ‘special help’, Nissan announced that it would build two new models at the Sunderland plant.
In spite of the announcement, early this year Ghosn announced that Nissan would ‘review’ its Sunderland investment decision once the terms of Brexit became ‘clearer’ – a decision that put seven thousand UK jobs at risk.
Those terms are no clearer now than they were back in January and the UK’s negotiations led by David Davis have clearly been utterly incompetent – but in spite of this Nissan announced in August that it was increasing its production in Sunderland by twenty percent in a further multi-million pound investment.
Now, in November, Hammond is planning to announce a huge deal to incentivise and accelerate the appearance of unattended vehicles on the UK’s roads, in spite of safety concerns – a move that will, no doubt, benefit Nissan and other companies at the forefront of the development of driverless vehicles.
Yet those safety concerns persist – and a ‘near miss’ with a cyclist captured during a driverless car test drive in London earlier this year raised fears that the technology is not ready for live use:
The car passes the cyclist at a proximity that would, according to police, have made a human driver liable to prosecution.
By his own admission, Philip Hammond has not yet even been in a driverless car – and he cancelled today’s trip to the West Midlands that he told Marr yesterday he was making for his first experience in one:
The Telegraph reported that the trip was cancelled in case it became a ‘disastrous’ photo opportunity ahead of the Budget – but it means that Hammond is planning to commit the UK’s resources to accelerating the live launch of a technology that he has never experienced.
Is this promise part of a deal with UK motor manufacturers to allow the government to avoid the loss of face that would undoubtedly arise from decisions to cancel or suspend investment because of the Tories’ Brexit incompetence?
Among other pro-corporate decisions, Hammond is also expected to announce millions for the installation of fast internet and improved mobile phone signals on trains – allocating tax money to something that train operators would otherwise have to fund themselves.
At a time when the UK’s vulnerable and poor are facing even more horrific deprivation than usual under Tory government, it’s looks like this budget is going to be a bonanza for big businesses and a face-saving operation for the incompetent Tories.
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