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Conti vs Aaronovitch: the war of words in full

PUBLISHED: 12:08 03 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:55 07 September 2010

Speaking at Burgh House

Speaking at Burgh House

Jonathan Goldberg 07958 229 037

DAVID Aaronovitch and Tom Conti have been locked in a bitter row, played out on the pages of the Ham&High. The journalist and the actor have traded insults, while disagreeing vehemently on such issues as parking policy, road congestion and public transpor

DAVID Aaronovitch and Tom Conti have been locked in a bitter row, played out on the pages of the Ham&High.

The journalist and the actor have traded insults, while disagreeing vehemently on such issues as parking policy, road congestion and public transport.

It all started at a talk in Hampstead's Burgh House, where Mr Aaronovitch called Mr Conti a "ridiculous actor" and "a bloody nuisance" who "moans to his local paper whenever someone tries to interfere with his motor car".

Mr Conti hit back, accusing Mr Aaronovitch of writing "emotional vomit" and misrepresenting his views.

We have given both figures the chance to have their say. Here we print their full replies and ask you to join the debate. Please send us your views by emailing letters@hamhigh.co.uk.

Tom Conti: "I was first misrepresented some time ago by Mr Aaronovitch when he said in his column that I and my mates wanted to be able to park wherever we liked. That is far from the truth - and I don't have 'mates'. He is quoted as saying of himself 'One thing I have never had to do is write something other than what I think.' Unfortunate, since thinking doesn't seem to be his talent. If it was he might take more care to investigate the facts, realising that inaccuracy and emotional vomit cause thinking people to take what he writes with a large pinch of salt. His thinking comes into question also in his support for the Iraq war. Saddam Hussein was a rotten man but not barking mad. Even if he had possessed weapons he would never have launched a nuclear strike, knowing as he did and as does Ahmadinejad, that within an hour of doing so his country would be wiped off the face of the Earth. Mr Aaronovitch supports Ken Livingstone, who has certainly provided London with much needed buses. Unfortunately they're the wrong ones. Not only do people want hop on - hop off buses but putting bendy buses on the streets of London, causing traffic jams and the resulting massive pollution, is almost certifiable insanity.

What I hate is bullying. Ken Livingstone and certain local authorities have for years robbed and bullied people who use vehicles, be they millionaires or a little man with a van trying to make a living. I care about individuals. Individuals make up the masses. Like the aphorism 'Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves', take care of each person and the masses will be just fine. Mr Aaronovitch considers me to be a 'bloody nuisance'. Good. I shall strive always to be an even greater bloody nuisance to him - and his mates."

David Aaronovitch: "Well, the rattle certainly came flying out of that pram. And at a velocity which suggests that while its occupant can dish it out (robbers, bullies etc), he doesn't like it coming back.

Actually I do rather regret - even in a light-hearted moment - calling Tom Conti 'ridiculous', because it doesn't constitute much of an argument. Partly I was influenced by a series of Conti pronouncements over the years: the moaning about Hampstead being badly treated, as in, 'Hampstead should never have been part of Camden. Those people who have lived here for quite a while all know that.' (A fairly typical Conti claim, that last one.) There was his suggestion to one interviewer that things were so bad for the well-off that soon there'd be a tax on just being middle or upper class. There was his opposition to the McDonalds in Hampstead.

But more than Conti's self-pity as a downtrodden Hampstead haute bourgeois with hardly two millions to rub together, what angered me was his sense of entitlement as that odd chimera, the done-down motorist. 'If you drive a car these days you are persecuted,' he claims. Congestion charging is 'Soviet', according to Tom. It is outrageous that he should be fined for not paying his congestion charge on time, or pursued for parking charges.

I think his sense of persecution derives from his complete failure to grasp what the problem with cars in London actually is. If you examine two photographs of any street in Hampstead, one from 1958 and one from 2008, the huge difference won't be in the buildings or the streets, it will be in the staggering growth of the number of cars, stationary and moving, that dominate our public environment. This is partly due to the fact that, year by year, the real cost of motoring has fallen, mostly because of the relative cheapness of cars, maintenance and spare parts.

So, as every public policy wonk knows, we have reached the point where Victorian streets built for trams and horsedrawn carriages have no room for more cars. Consequently the space we have is inevitably becoming governed by price rationing and restriction. But the problem is that the unwonked Tom doesn't see it this way. Madly, he thinks that traffic became bad 'because of uncoordinated roadworks and bad driving. That and too many empty buses....' His answer? Abolish bus lanes.

That attitude, Tom, advanced by a sufficient number of big babies, is what constitutes the 'bloody nuisance' I was talking about. You motorists already rule, and what makes your lives intolerable is yourselves. It is the cyclists, bus passengers and pedestrians who are in real need of a champion.

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