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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496