“Build back better” is not my favourite phrase (meaning always gets sacrificed for alliteration; alliteration sucks), but it is the only way to think anything constructive about this grim time, so I am prepared to let it go. What if Covid changed the way we lived so profoundly and made us totally reevaluate what we care about, so that the planet, against all the odds, was saved? Well, my south London council has made a start, blocking all the traffic at one end of a toast rack of fancy roads, which will apparently make cycling and walking conditions much safer. It has called this the Oval Triangle.
Look, I have no skin in this game: I don’t have a car, I have not been frightened of cycling in London since 2001 and, anyway, I am moving. I don’t know if this will reduce traffic, or just increase it on the other roads and boost emissions by making journeys longer. But I somehow busked into the WhatsApp group of the most important fancy road – let’s call it Fancy Road – when, in fact, I live in the definitively not-fancy road just off it. So I know that there was a democratic deficit in the planning, which is that none of the not-fancy roads were consulted. No leaflets, no meetings, no “consultative process”, just a bunch of giant planters suddenly where the thoroughfare used to be.
Fancy Road cannot understand why the people on the estates are so upset, when they are getting the same clean air benefit as everyone else and, anyway, poor people don’t have cars. So I stuck my oar in, with what I thought was a series of quite delicately made points, such as: “This has added a full seven quid to the cost of getting a cab back from Lidl.” They were all pretty cross. Then the private messages arrived off-thread. “Thank God you told them where to stick it. And they wonder why Brexit happened!”
Wait, what? This is another culture war, the metropolitan elite versus the rest? How did I end up on the un-elite side of that? I think they will probably figure it out but, in the meantime, I have become Claire Fox, the poacher-turned-gamekeeper, the contrarian who is suddenly at the weird end of contrary. I just hope that, like her, I end up in the House of Lords.
o Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist