This week my bank hit me with a hike in my mortgage rate, blaming ‘market conditions’.

My electricity supplier bumped up my direct debit, blaming rising prices.

Suddenly Gordon Brown’s tax giveaway seemed to evaporate.

We Brits are quick to spot a rip-off. And having lived in a low-inflation, easy credit economy for more than a decade, we’re quick to associate every price rise and increase in taxation with being fleeced.

We might not be able to wreak our revenge on the banks, but you can bet Gordon will feel our wrath.

When it comes to spotting a rip-off, there’s nobody better than a motorist.

Every petrol pump is an impromptu meeting of the Victor Meldrew Appreciation Society.

It takes a brave soul to confront the motoring public with a bit of forward thinking, so it’s no surprise that Manchester’s congestion charging plans have provoked such phobic opposition.

The response of Sean Corker, coordinator of the campaign group Manchester Against Road Tolls, was typical: ‘People are going to be taxed off the road.’

But is it really so terrible to tax drivers off the road if that money is invested in more efficient ways of getting around?

The Manchester scheme has been described as bribery or bullying by government: you’ll only get the investment in public transport if you introduce congestion charging.

It would be more culpable if the government failed to use its leverage as an investor to secure long term benefits.

Having imagined that somehow rising demand for oil wouldn’t affect us, we’re now emerging blinking into a world that’s harsher than even some of the experts predicted.

Those who do well will be the ones who think ahead. In transport and planning terms, that means using the opportunity to invest in infrastructure that works and is affordable.

Without a means of paying for public transport, whether it’s a congestion charge, a car parking levy or increasing road taxes, we’re at the mercy of the markets.

These choices won’t be popular, in Manchester or elsewhere, and Ruth Kelly won’t be the only political leader to face a backlash.

But those who replace them will face the same dilemmas: the cost of fuel won’t fall the minute we elect a different government.

In the end, we need to ask who’s doing the ripping off: the policymakers who want motorists to pay for transport infrastructure, or the motorists who want the rest of us to underwrite their lifestyles?

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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