I've a question for those, like Dizzy or Devil's Kitchen, who oppose New Labour's proposed road pricing: are you opposed to road pricing in principle, or just to the likely way it'll be implemented?
For me, the principle behind road pricing is impeccable. It's that road space is a scarce resource. Scarce resources will be rationed somehow. And the best way to ration them is by price rather than queueing. Here are good summaries (pdf) of the case. Here's a longer investigation. And here are some arguments against.
Now, I'll grant that New Labour will implement this in the most ham-fisted and illiberal way possible. And its supporters like Steve Richards discredit the case when they write drivel such as "progressive government requires strong leadership."
But these are arguments about practice. They don't discredit the principle of road pricing. And there are three arguments against the principle that won't wash.
1. "It's regressive." Let's assume - contrary to the evidence (pdf) - that this is the case. This is not an argument against road pricing. It's an argument for road pricing to be accompanied by a more progressive tax and benefit system, to offset the distributional effects. Just because you're poor doesn't give you the right to clog up the roads for others.
2. "It's a stealth tax." But it needn't be. In principle, road pricing can be accompanied by tax cuts.
3. "The vehicle tracking necessary for road pricing is an infringement of civil liberties." Not all road pricing, however, requires such intrusive measures; London's congestion charging zone doesn't, and nor, in some forms, does the M6 toll road. It's not obvious that road pricing must be a bigger intrusion than, say, an Oyster card.
There's an issue here that goes deeper than just road pricing. It's about the attitudes of "left" and "right" towards markets. Those of us whose political attitudes were formed in the 1970s and 80s - when arguments for free markets came largely (exclusively?) from the right - find it paradoxical that it's the "right" who are most opposed to the introduction of a market in road space.