Too dreadful even for Clarkson?

Sian's responds to the launch of a new righthand drive Hummer

I have been kept busy this bank holiday, dissing the launch in the UK of the new Hummer monstrosity.

In the hope you’ve never heard of such a thing. Here’s a few basic facts. A Hummer is (surprise) a giant 4x4, based on an armoured car thingy used by the US army. Style icon Arnold Schwartzenegger was responsible for persuading them to make a ‘civilian’ version a few years ago. General Motors have since bought the franchise and their new H3 is being launched in right-hand-drive for the first time in Manchester this week.

The H3 gets around 15mpg in town and its carbon dioxide emissions are equally atrocious, ranging between 327 and 346 gm/km. These figures put the H3 more than 100 g/km above the cut-off point for top car tax Band G, and make it – scientifically – a whole Citroen too big.

I’m not sure what GM think they are playing at. There’s something incredibly wrong about launching a stupendously wasteful car at this moment in history, just when almost everyone is seeing the light and trying to reduce their carbon footprint.

Even in the USA, where a ‘normal’ car is about double the size of a Ford Focus, the sheer horridness of the Hummer has spawned a campaign of organised derision in the form of the FUH2 website, which collects phone camera snaps of people giving ‘the official Hummer salute’ to passing idiots.

Rising fuel prices in America have meant the gas-guzzler strategy hasn’t worked out for GM in business terms either. Plummeting sales of 4x4s – sending profits into free-fall – mean the company is rapidly laying off workers and closing factories, while imports of climate-conscious Japanese cars soar. So it’s hard to see why GM think pushing giant cars will serve them any better in the UK, where petrol costs even more, taxes are getting (marginally) higher for top emitters and there’s a fully fledged backlash against off-road wastemonsters.

Given this, I am also having difficulty imagining who might want one of these nowadays. The H3 has the aesthetics of a transit van and the driver visibility of a tank (thanks to its tiny windows that are a legacy of its military origins) which makes it a nightmare to steer around pedestrians and cyclists. I dread to think what its rear blind spot is, and I wouldn’t fancy trying to park one either.

The Manchester-based dealership where the H3 will be sold is claming in its launch material that there is a market for these things amongst young men who ‘have got and don’t care’. But actually I doubt there are many fashion points left for big gas-guzzlers now, even outside London. (I think it’s significant they didn’t plan the launch here in the capital, where a congestion charge of £25 a day is on the cards.) Even young, white-shirted blokes probably do care about looking ridiculous and getting evil glances from absolutely everyone when they drive down the street. You’d have to be Jeremy Clarkson himself to enjoy that.

In fact, Clarkson exhibited curiously mixed views on the H3’s predecessor, the H2 (these were only available in left-hand-drive and there are, thankfully, only a few hundred on our streets). In his review for the Times back in 2003 he said that despite its faults he, “loved it. I loved the look of the thing most of all” but, by 2005, the H2 had descended in his estimation to the wrong end of his personal ‘cockometer’ scale (which is definitely saying something). I’m holding out a slim hope that he will give the H3 a rave review. That will surely see it off for good.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.