View from Across La Manche#15 – From Our Own Correspondent

The time has come, the correspondent said, to talk of many things,
Of Kings and cops and long road hops, while Americana sings…
(with heartfelt apologies to Lewis Carroll)

I was originally going to write at length about the coronation and the perception of it here in France, but that all seems so long ago that it scarcely seems relevant now. Suffice to say that most people I know here in France, and not just the French but other nationalities as well, seemed completely bemused by it all. I did have a couple of enquiries about why the UK still went in for this sort of thing and why they would conduct an event on such a lavish scale at a time when so many are facing real hardship because of the cost of living crisis. I had no answers since I was as bemused as they were. It did give me an excellent opportunity to practice my gallic shrug.

Defend our right to peaceful protest. Alisdare Hickson

Something that has more than raised eyebrows over here was the Metropolitan Police’s crackdown on any anti-monarchy protest at the coronation and the use of the new Public Order Act designed to limit peaceful opposition to, well, anything really.  As you might imagine, in a country that prides itself on the populace’s ability to speak truth to power, the new Public Order Act in the UK is seen as a major assault on human rights here in France. I think it’s fair to say that any attempt to pass such an act in France, and in many EU countries, would meet with robust opposition and it confirms the view of many that Brexit was as much about being able to limit human rights in the UK as it was about taxation and environmental protection laws. We watch developments with considerable interest.

I was up in Leipzig at the end of May, covering the International Transport Forum. It’s something I’ve done for a few years now and I find it a fascinating event. As the title suggests, it’s a forum that looks at what is happening in transportation and how to plan for the future of an international industry that has such an effect on all our lives, especially in the wake of climate change and the many economic difficulties many societies now face. It’s an event that attracts Ministers of Transport, Heads of Airlines, organisers of freight transportation and of public transport – pretty much every aspect of transportation and how it impacts on all our lives. What has been encouraging to see, over the years I’ve been covering the event, is the commitment from so many of these companies and organisations to attempting to achieve a carbon-neutral state for transport at the earliest possible date. What has been far less encouraging is understanding the mountains they have to climb to get close to this goal.

Graham Hogg / Eddie on the M1 motorway / CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the more interesting interviews I conducted this time round was with Umberto De Pretto, the Secretary General of the International Road Transport Union. Despite the name, Umberto is actually a Canadian and very clued up on the issues facing the transport industry in addressing reducing emissions while still trying to keep the wheels of commerce moving. He told me that the road haulage industry currently has a shortage of 3.5 million drivers, across the industry as a whole, and that the statistics suggest that, if governments fail to do something to address the shortage, it will be 7.7 million by 2028. He points out that international laws require you to be 21 to be a long-distance lorry driver, yet in some countries, like his native Canada, you can start learning to drive at 16. Why can’t governments create apprentice schemes whereby a driver can start to train for haulage work at 17, working with smaller vehicles initially and building their skills up to full haulage capability by 18/19. He further points out that, if young drivers are properly trained, they can cut the level of emissions from large trucks by 15% almost overnight – it’s about learning the techniques that can make them more efficient drivers – but someone needs to invest in the training and future thinking that’s missing at the moment. Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all this but, if you think about it, this all has serious long-term implications for touring artists. Will long haul tours still be able to take place if the shortage of suitable drivers continues to grow? Touring is under increasing pressure from a number of factors, the rising costs of fuel, lengthy hold-ups at borders (particularly going into and out of the UK, following Brexit), increased legislation on the length of time drivers can safely operate their vehicles. Add to those factors an ageing workforce in many countries and fewer and fewer new drivers coming into the profession and the future for large-scale touring starts to look increasingly bleak. That’s probably not a major concern in the greater scheme of things but, if artists can’t tour where will they make their money? The Covid pandemic showed just how important live music is to so many people and, once restrictions were lifted, we saw touring artists come back in a big way; could we now see that change as it becomes increasingly difficult to find the drivers to move artists and equipment around? If you’re interested to hear more of what Umberto De Pretto had to say about the challenges facing road transportation, you can do so here, along with other comments on the future of transportation from others interviewed at the forum.

It’s time for some music. Tom Petty reflects on the upside of a coronation, who else but Billy Bragg would we turn to for a comment on the value of peaceful demonstration, and Joe Ely gives us Merle Haggard’s song on the plight of the long-distance truck driver. And you thought I was rambling aimlessly!

À bientôt.

About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
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