Our potholed roads are a potent symbol of austerity Britain

Potholes on Tower Way, Canterbury, before they were filled in

Potholes make excellent news stories, so I’m told. Everyone experiences them, everyone has a view on whose fault they are.

Equally, everyone is unimpressed when Kent County Council announces that it has “fixed” 1200 pothole in Canterbury since January.

Especially since we can all see that these “fixes” involve nothing more sophisticated than throwing a bit of tarmac into an unprepared hole, tamping it down and then moving on, leaving it to come apart again as soon as traffic runs over it.

In any case, 1200 is a meaningless number of supposed fixes – 1200 out of how many is the key statistic – and sending crews out to replace small sections of road, like they did on Military Road just this week, is equally meaningless.

Never mind that they left big potholes untouched, a whole 20 yards or so of road got a new surface. Celebration time, no doubt, in County Hall.

Dave Wilson

But the real issue here is why our roads have been allowed to get into this condition in the first place.

Those who drive abroad will know that roads in most other western European countries are nothing like as bad as ours, and most are greatly superior.

We have, as you may have noticed, a government that believes in financial austerity.

That involves nothing more complicated that not spending money on public services.

It allows them to claim that they are balancing the books, while our collective infrastructure crumbles in front of our eyes.

We have been here before. Under the Tory governments of Thatcher and Major, public spending was slashed. Those of us who are old enough will remember the state of our schools and hospitals after 18 years of their penny-pinching. So when Labour was elected in 1997 there was a massive spend to invest in bringing things back up to standard.

You should remember that whenever the Tories claim that Labour spends too much: we wouldn’t have to, if things has been kept up to scratch in the first place.

Cutting costs is very easy, in fact. You just have to not spend any money. It’s like slimming: you could lose weight very easily if you were locked in a cage and given nothing but water to drink for 10 days. You just wouldn’t be able to walk at the end of it.

In other words, crude savings are counter-productive. And that’s essentially the limits of the policy of this government. There is nothing sophisticated or targeted about their cuts, other than that the effects fall on the poor rather then rich.

Could it be that our collective obsession with not paying enough tax lies at the root of this?

So next time you hit a pothole in the road, remember to answer this before you complain: did you vote for that? And would you do it again?

According to city councillor Robert Thomas, my article last week was “trolling of the highest order”.

I wasn’t sure whether to take this as a compliment or an insult: I’m deeply, deeply hurt that he thinks I’m a troll. But at least he thinks I’m good at it.

Of course I had simply made a point about the conduct of a public body, and an entirely legitimate analysis – whether he agrees with it or not – of why, under the current regime, our council seems to be incapable of controlling and planning development effectively.

The issues I raise are often inconvenient to the council, and Cllr Thomas at least appears to have no answer for them. Better, from his point of view, to deflect the debate by attacking me.

We should be concerned because this is happening in our public debates too often. It is not a one-off tactic which is used often enough to raise the suspicion that it is a deliberate strategy to distract attention from criticism.

They cannot stand the idea of effective scrutiny. Nor, it seems, do they understand the legitimate role of journalism in a democratic society.

This column is, after all, just a polemic intended to provoke thought through suggesting a different way of looking at things. In Cllr Thomas’s case it seems to have succeeded in provoking, but clearly no thinking resulted. Which is a shame.


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