Thursday, 28 July 2016

Five years ago

Five years ago today the video below was issued by London Cycling Campaign as part of a consultation exercise with its members to find out what their preferred campaign might be for the 2012 London Mayoral election. In it, I argued that the key first step towards mass cycling is the provision of high-quality segregated cycle tracks on main roads. This overwhelming support this concept gained from the membership led directly to the Love London, Go Dutch campaign, the commitments secured from Boris Johnson, his Mayor's Vision for Cyclingand the system of quality segregated cycle tracks we now see starting to be developed on the main roads of London, so conspicuously enabling all-abilites, 'eight to eighty' cycling in places where this had not be dreamed of before. So I am proud of this.



This is not to decry the proposers of the other three possible campaigns mooted in the video. They all make excellent points. But it was a matter of what was the best, most effective strategy for us to pursue at the stage we were at (and largely still are) in our development of a utility cycling system and culture in London.

In the video, the first proposed theme, that of getting larger numbers of children cycling to school, was an objective, not a mechanism. There was no contradiction or competition with my proposal there because the one was necessary for the other. A very large number of schools are only accessed on major roads that would need segregated cycle infrastructure in order to get kids and parents cycling to them. Other schools in other places would require different treatments of the roads around them. But putting a social result of good cycling infrastructure forward to be the campaign itself was not quite logical. And one might be struck by the fact that for a demonstrator background to that bit of video, a temporary 'artificial' situation was used, of the FreeCycle (then called SkyRide) ride round London where children do indeed come out cycling in large numbers because the roads are closed for a few hours. In contrast, the background to my segment was the real, permanent situation created by the Torrington Place cycle track in Bloomsbury (which was doubled in capacity last year).

The third proposal, for 'unwinding urban gyratories,' also contained a fallacy: the idea that merely making these major roads two-way would be of great benefit to cyclists and pedestrians, would actually transform them into pleasant places to be, without measures to also reduce the total motor traffic. I've dealt with that one here, and I think we've moved beyond this concept in policy terms now. I pointed out long ago how, where in it was tried in practice, for example in Piccadilly, the simple unwinding of gyratory systems proved to be no good for pedestrians or cyclists.

Then the final proposal, Love thy neighbourhood, for a campaign for area-wide traffic motor removal schemes through modal filtering, did of course advocate a policy that is essential to creating a truly people-friendly city. But it can never be the primary solution for cycling on the road grid that we already have, because we can't get rid of all the motor traffic arteries that most real cycle trips will need to use for part of the journey. A comprehensive application of Love thy neighbourhood principles would, at best, lead to a series of separate small districts in which cycling was an attractive option, cut off from one another by still-hostile main roads.

Then, proposing this as the first step from where we were, also, I hold, badly underestimated the huge political challenge of creating these calmed neighbourhoods in a political climate where most people cannot imagine everyday transport by bicycle and believe in general that having all possible routes for motor vehicles open is a good thing. The  Quietway element of The Mayor's Vision hit precisely this snag. It turned out, as I expected, that it was actually poltically far easier to carve space for cycling out of main roads by physical segreagtion, than it was to create routes on minor roads by closing rat-runs. Those who depend on car transport typically only think their street should be quieted. The next one, and the next one... they should all be  rat-runs to allow them to get places fast. This is a fundamental problem. We have seen that there is not yet political consensus on the general desirability and practicality of low-traffic residential areas in London.

We've seen that again and again, in Lambeth (Loughborough Road area), Camden (West Kentish Town), Hackney (London Fields) and so on, where progressive proposals from boroughs for area-wide traffic reduction in residential districts have been defeated by opponents. But, judging from consultation results, and also conversations I have with politicians, we do have consensus that main roads should allow protected space for cycling. We need the calmed neighbourhoods as well, of course, for many reasons beyond cycling, but it looks like being a while still before that argument can be generally won. Then again, a main point about the 2012 campaign was we were trying to influence the Mayor, and he controlled not the neighbourhood roads, but the major ones. So it made sense for the campaign to be calling for stuff that he could bring about directly.

The point about the main road treatments is they really do generate new users, they get people out of their cars and off the buses and tubes, and start to build up the mass of influence we need to get the other, more difficult changes through. That's why attempting to start with the other stuff wouldn't be very effective. That's why I stressed in the video: This is the first step to generating a real, mass cycling culture. The propaganda power of the cycle track carved in granite out of what was previously space ruled by motors is huge, and immediately comprehended by those who have never thought about this subject before, in a way that filtered permeability just isn't. In other words, as Paul Gannon said to me back in the last century: people cycling on separate tracks on busy roads make other people think I could could do that too to a far greater extent than any other engineering measure or piece of promotion does.

The proof of all this seems to me to be amply demonstrated by what we see on the roads of Central London today. Mind you, I never expected to see the scene that was videoed by Wayne David last Saturday at the Embankment, site of the East-West Cycle Superhighway, the route for which I first suggested to Andrew Gilligan, the future Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, in 2012.


Clearly this was not the normal usage of the Embankment even on a busy day for cycling. Bike Biz tried to get to the bottom of what it actually was: seemingly a semi-organised, semi-counter-cultural, semi-commercial youth street 'happening'. It attracted criticism, but I cannot but agree with one commentator on the BikBiz article, who wrote:
Looks like they've done a better job at getting young people on bikes than all of the government schemes put together...
They may have been preparing for the RideLondon FreeCycle this Saturday. This annual mass ride around closed streets in Central London has existed for many years under various names and sponsors. It was first suggested to the then Mayor, Ken Livingstone, by LCC. I've been somewhat negative about this event in the past: of the 2011 event, then called Sky Ride, I wrote:
In this event, a seven mile circuit of central London streets is given over exclusively to bikes for a few hours once a year, cyclists are dressed up like yellow canaries for no apparent reason except to unwillingly advertise Sky Sports, and a huge number of obstructive barriers is erected around The Mall to prevent anybody from conveniently walking anywhere, enforced by a huge number of paid-for-the-day officious event staff who shout orders at you and tell you what a good time you are having.
I saw it as  rather tokenistic and an excuse for the Mayor not taking decisive action to make cycling an everyday option for Londoners:
To expect Sky Ride to encourage more people to cycle under everyday London traffic conditions is like expecting the experience of taking a cross-channel ferry to encourage people to swim the channel. It unrealistic, as the conditions are so profoundly different.
But from where I sit now, having seen the changes since then, I reckon I was a bit harsh. Perhaps these events, though demonstrating the suppressed demand, did contribute to generating the political pressure that brought our present infrastructure programme into being. And, strangely enough, I am quite looking forward to this weekend's event. It looks far better than ever before, with a route that does not use the same roads there and back, as in the past, but is a real loop round, with various interesting alternatives to explore, using in part the new East-West Superhighway, but closing a lot of other roads to motor traffic besides. And, of course, if you are lucky enough to come from an appropriate direction, you can use a Superhighway to get there.

Maybe I will see you there. Look out for the Vole!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The Cycle Superhighway reaches Hyde Park

Construction of the East-West Cycle Superhighway (or CS3) in London has been continuing, and the sections on the roads in Hyde Park are nearly built, and to pleasing quality.

From the already-famous section on the Embankment, which opened on 6 May (the opening was Boris Johnson's last act as Mayor of London) the route is programmed to go via Bridge Street, Parliament Square and George Street (already constructed) via a new path on Birdcage Walk by St James's Park, a new bollard-segregated section past Buckingham Palace (mentioned in this post), and an upgraded path along the margin of Green Park in Constitution Hill, to the crossing of Hyde Park Corner, and thence along South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park. It will then turn sharply north on to West Carriage Drive (wrongly labelled as 'Exhibition Road' in TfL's own diagram, below) and exit the park at Lancaster Gate.


As I've pointed out before, this routing is not the most logical, and I expect most cyclists actually following the east-west route to connect from Apsley Gate at Hyde Park Corner to Lancaster Gate via the existing cycle path of the Broad Walk and the North Carriage Drive, which is more direct than the official route, which seems to have been chosen for political reasons between the Royal Parks Authority and Transport for London. I guess they did not want to 'encourage' more cyclists on to the already busy Broad Walk, full of pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders, which has painted-line segregation and a poor design which is not effective at keeping pedestrians and cyclists apart. (One foolishness is that the benches must be accessed from the footpath by crossing the cycle path – it would be better to use the benches as a barrier.)

Rather than change this poor design in Broad Walk, the authorities have chosen to built a new high-quality route along the South and West Carriage Drives (which already had cycle facilities, but poor ones). This is in many ways a good thing. It creates a high-quality, high-capacity motor-traffic-free connection from Hyde Park Corner to Kensington Gardens and South Kensington (Exhibition Road) to replace the far too narrow, existing line-segregated path along the south side of the park. At the same time it benefits walkers, taming the rat-run of South Carriage Drive and taking flows of cyclists on the east-west axis well away from flows of pedestrians. The work on West Carriage Drive is also, in itself, welcome and long-overdue, replacing the strange and illogical mixture on on and off-road 'facilities' on different sides of the road that existed before, and creating a top-quality cycle connection north-south across the park from Exhibition Road to Westbourne Terrace, linking South Kensington to the future western extension of the Superhighway.

Boris Johnson opens the first phase of the East-West Superhighway in May
Two-way Superhighway on the west side of Bridge Street, heading for signals in Parliament Square
The old cycle path on Broad Walk does not effectively keep pedestrians out at busy times, and is often closed for events.
South Carriage Drive as it was: a wide, open fast rat run for cars with a painted cycle line that only hardened cyclists dared use, and space-wasting central islands that forced pedestrians to cross the road in two stages
Building work on South Carriage Drive in early July. A swathe of road on the park side is being segregated off for a 4m wide track. The old pedestrian islands are going, along with the old cycle lane, and the whole road is being moved southwards (to the right) slightly.
A completed section of 4m segregation on South Carriage Drive near Hyde Park Corner. The old cycle lane markings are still present and the red surface is old. Presumably it will be resurfaced.  
The track on the east side of the West Carriage Drive is largely complete and is 4m wide generally but widens to 6m at Alexandra Gate to allow for lanes for cyclists heading to and from Exhibition Road and cyclists following the Superhighway from and to South Carriage Drive.
Charlie Fernandes (@Charliecycling) demonstrates the width of the track approaching Alexandra Gate (Exhibition Road). The pavement has been rebuilt and the old, poor on-pavement cycle track is gone. 
The track in West Carriage Drive gracefully allows cyclists to bypass the near-permanent traffic jam that has always made cycling here so unpleasant and inefficient in the past
A chamfered kerb has been used here, which is good practice, and in the distance a table runs across both cycle track and carriageway at a pedestrian crossing point.
Detail of the speed table on the track. The ramp has cobble-ish stones but is fairly benign. I don't know why a zebra crossing was not used; are Royal Parks are antipathetic to these?
The track becomes very wide again on the curve north of the Serpentine Bridge. This is very good design; there is something of a slope here and some cyclists will be going fast at the junction of the track with the car park entrance: the extra width here gives room for errors by both drivers and cyclists

The same viewed from the north. An odd thing has occurred her in the cycle track having a black machine-laid surface, but the carriageway being reddish, as is often Royal Park's practice. The colours are thus the reverse of the Dutch convention.
When I viewed these facilities in early July they were not yet open, though of course cyclists were trying to use them. The building of the linkage through Lancaster Gate, a hitherto highly unpleasant racetrack gyratory and major blockage on the cycle network, had not started. I believe work in Westbourne Terrace, further north, has started, however. This is the last part of the Superhighway that is currently approved for construction. In April consultation took place on the next section, taking CS3 (and the Superhighways) firmly into West London, via the elevated Westway section of the A40. This idea, by Johnson's cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, was not universally welcomed by cycle campaigners, who generally would have preferred a more accessible and humane route on the surface, but I supported it, as, due to the obstructiveness of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who seem to have a horror of the idea of cycle tracks on their roads, there was really no alternative for westwards continuation at that time. Transport for London have jurisdiction over the A40.

We await a decision by the new Mayor Sadiq Khan on the continuation of CS3 on the Westway, as well as the northward continuation of CS6, the North-South Superhighway, from Farringdon Road to Judd Street, and the commencement of works on CS11 from Portland Place to Swiss Cottage. All these were consulted on earlier this year, and, despite the vicious campaign against CS11 that I reported on, all secured a high level of public support. Khan must now start to make good his election promise to 'Make London a byword for cycling'. So far we have only heard generalities from him (except for a commitment to create a new walking and cycling bridge in East London and a commitment to pedestrianise Oxford Street, which may or may not work out well for cycling). He has also not yet appointed a successor to the highly-successful first Cycling Commissioner for London, Andrew Gilligan. Caroline Russell, Green London Assembly Member, has reported that this job, which is to be re-badged as 'Cycling and Walking Commissioner', is to be advertised soon. I am worried about this. 

The Cycling Commissioner post that Gilligan occupied under Johnson was a political post, as it needed to be. The job was not advertised because it needed to go to a political ally of the Mayor for the role to be effectively accomplished. In, Gilligan, an ally of Johnson, and indeed a friend, political heft was combined with diplomatic capability and  a great deal of knowledge about cycling in London, with a recognition of it as being generally dreadful, and a determination to knock political  and bureaucratic heads together in order to change things. A journalist, and thus an expert at publicity or propaganda, Gilligan was not a technical expert but understood enough technicalities to challenge experts when they stood in the way of progress, and was able to work with campaigners, if not always in complete harmony, then with a constructive friction; a kind of double-agent if you will.

Advertising the post of Cycling and Walking Commissioner suggests it is to be be downgraded to a technical role. A technician is likely to be ineffective in this highly political position. But we will have to see; I hope my worries on this are unfounded. They could be, with someone who is an expert in the post of Commissioner, but a strong driving force from the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Transport. I suppose Gilligan could re-apply for the job; he is clearly the most qualified person to do it. His report on the progress of the first three years of The Mayor's Vision for Cycling, Human Streets, is worth a read.

While the segregated Superhighways have been the massive success we knew they would be, they are still far from where most Londoners live and work. They only represent the bare beginnings of a functioning cycle network. It would be a crime for momentum to be lost and for the the expertise now built up within Transport for London in building high-quality, effective cycle infrastructure to be dissipated, which is what will occur if we do not rapidly have a plan for expansion of the network, in all directions, beyond Zone 1. Khan has popular, fully developed 'shovel-ready' schemes at his fingertips in CS3 as far as Wood Lane, CS6 as far as Euston Road and CS11 as far as Swiss Cottage. He needs to approve these now, get his Commissioner in place, and produce the detailed plan for the next four years.

He has been busy, of course, with the EU referendum, and, in the aftermath, with pressing the government for new powers to allow him to keep London as closely linked to Europe as possible; these were the right things for him to be doing, and the strategic and financing powers he is seeking, if he is successful, can only be good for continuation of the cycling programme and modernisation of the streets generally. In particular, he needs far more authority over the infrastructure currently controlled by the boroughs, the Corporation of the City of London, and the Royal Parks. The lack of this authority is pointed to in Gilligan's report as a major reason why progress  on the Mayor's Vision has not been faster. Nevertheless, Khan should not repeat Johnson's mistake of moving slowly, being in office for eight (or four) years, and scrambling to try to build a world-class cycle network in the last few months of that.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A nice walk

I went for a nice walk in Central London on Saturday. It was great to be in the sunshine and showers, slowly ambling past the architectural treasures and follies in the historic heart of our democracy at Westminster. The experience was rendered infinitely more pleasurable by the fact that the authorities had, for some reason, decided to ban all traffic in those streets for the day – even (shock, horror) bikes. So the air was clean and there was no threat of getting run over, even walking in the middle of the street.

It wasn't as quiet as you might have expected, however, as 30,000 other people had decided to do the same thing. And some of these people had trumpets and other noise-making gadgets (and I realised for the first time exactly why it was that, historically, the trumpet was always the primary instrument of the army).

This was clearly a family day out for many, and the huge crowd was good-natured and boisterous. Many of these walkers had created very clever posters lampooning the politicians who led the campaign for the UK to leave the EU. I think my favourite was the one paraded by some children referencing the Scooby Doo cartoons. With Gove, Johnson and Farage dressed as fake spooks, it stated You won't get away with it, we are the meddling kids.











Some of my acquaintances, even left-wing people, actually disapproved of this march. They called it 'anti-democratic'. 'We've had the referendum, we didn't like the result, but that's it, we've got to live with it, that's democracy' went the argument.

I beg to differ. I think we have a duty to continue to campaign, if we really believe that Brexit is so wrong, in particular to defend some people who may be rendered vulnerable by the result of the referendum. Majority votes have the potential to damage the weak if the question asked is a bad one. That's why generally why we don't use referendums, we use representative democracy through Parliament. Additionally we have a high duty to European peace and solidarity, if we truly believe that that is what the EU is ultimately about. If we believe the 52% got it badly wrong, it's our duty to go on saying so.

The constitutional position is fairly simple. The referendum was only advisory, and Members of Parliament, have, as I stated in my letter to my MP, the duty to take not just the referendum result, but all the circumstances, and all their best judgement about what is best for the nation, into consideration in coming to their decision as to whether to allow the UK to secede from the EU. It's totally legitimate for the Remain supporters to go on lobbying parliament to try to convince them that we should not leave the EU, for many and various reasons, after the vote has been counted, and even after we start to leave, if we do, to continue to lobby to reverse the process. This isn't anti-democratic. it's fully a correct part of the democratic process. If an MP was on the losing side of a vote in the House of Commons on a subject that he or she cared passionately about, no-one would be surprised if he or she continued to try to persuade fellow members of their point of view on the subject and to agitate for a further vote. Many important reforms have historically come about in this way: the principle was lost first time round but succeeded in the end. No-one would argue this is an undemocratic process in a legislature – why so if amongst members of the public after a referendum? I would expect the supporters of any cause who believed in it strongly, even the Leave camp, if events were going against them, to do the same. Ultimately, of course, the objective is not to make Parliament take an unpopular decision. It is for the populace to realise that they got it wrong first time round. Public sentiment and politicians' minds need to be turned at the same time.

But in the shorter term, before most people realise that Brexit is wrong, there's another relevant argument: 48% simply isn't a mandate for the scale of destructive change that will be brought about. As many have pointed out, it is normal in not only developed political systems, but in voluntary organisations, for change to the constitutional status quo to require a supermajority of 60%, or two-thirds, or majorities simultaneously in two levels of government (for example in all devolved authorities as well las the central one). Such a stipulation wasn't put in place in this referendum, though it was in the first Scottish and Welsh devolution referendums. Instead all we have is the discretion of MPs to call upon.

I'm not over-optimistic about the effect that a march of 30,000 people will have. The Stop the War protests were bigger, and they didn't stop the war. But protest is an essential element in the combination of levers the ongoing Remain campaign will need to use turn this around. There is an important difference with the Stop the War movement. The war was inherently self-limiting, as the people will not stand for an indefinite foreign military involvement. Marching may not stop a war, but may bias the politicians to pull out more quickly. Separation from the EU just goes on once triggered, and the period for campaigning about it is indefinite. The arguments by the Remain side will become ever more convincing with time as the problems with separation ravel up in ever-more tangled knots, growing more intractable as they are further examined. We are seeing this currently as the Conservative party debates who will be the next Prime Minister.

Now the EU emigrants in the UK and UK emigrants in other countries have become the political pawns in the Conservative leadership contest. 'Give everyone working here the right to remain' some say. 'No, we need to use them them as a bargaining chip against the other states where are own expats are' say others. So the lives of both their expatriates and ours are tossed about by these politicians in their own game.

The truth is it isn't possible for the UK government to give a guarantee about the EU nationals here because they can't be confident of getting a reciprocal deal from the EU. The truth is that the EU will not want to offer such a deal quickly, if at all, because the UK has to be seen to be punished for separating. The further truth is that some states in the EU probably would not be that averse to no deal being achieved, ever, and mass repatriations resulting, because in due course the expanding economies of the East European states might well need more of their workers back, and the Spanish and Proven├žale authorities may be quite happy to get rid of the burden of a large number of elderly British from their healthcare systems. Recall that every member state will have a veto on the final deal reached. The worst deal for Britain is the one that will take it. The UK is the biggest exporter of people in the EU: we have most to loose from negotiations on 'right to remain'.



It's not clear to me that the Bexit campaigners thought any of this through in advance. There is one huge, critical question that none of our pro-Leave politicians are asking, as French commentator P Y Gerbeaux (spelling?) commented right at the end of Radio 4's Westminster Hour this week (after recounting how many EU immigrants in the UK are now feeling scared and alienated): What hasppens if, down the road of the Article 50 process, all the UK negociators can get out of Brussels is a deal that is terrible for the UK? What happens if what the UK is offered is trading terms less favourable than those offered to Turkey, plus an insistence on full freedom of movement, plus fees? The UK then has only two rational course available: leave with no agreement, in which case we might get our 4.9 million mostly elderly nationals back pretty quickly, which will do wonders of our health and social care bills, or stay in the EU on current terms (if the other states unanimously still want us, which seems doubtful).

The likely real results of negotiations are seen in the actua example of Switzerland, which did have a binding referendum on limiting immigration, which the Swiss government has not been able to implement because it conflicts with trade agreements with the EU. The Swiss example shows how a favourable al la carte European relationship won't be possible. We'll either end up in a very subservient relationship, as Switzerland is now finding itself in, or with no more relationship with the EU than, say, Russia.

The fundamental problem with the concept of Brexit, is, and always has been, that it doesn't mean any one clear thing. That was the main difficulty with asking the populace to vote on it. The referendum asked a bad question. The EU is a continually evolving entity, shaped by it's member states and their government's policies. What Brexit means this year is different from what it might mean in the future. But there are several things we can say it definitely does mean. It means our government does not send any Commissioners to Brussels. It means our people do not elect members of the European Parliament. It means our ministers are not part of the EU Council of Ministers. It means our representatives are cut out of the decision-making of Europe. On the other hand, Brexit does not definitely mean control over our borders, and it does not mean definitely no contributions to the budgets of European institutions. Far from meaning 'taking back control', in most likely scenarios, Brexit amounts to a desperate loss of control.

How did this state of misunderstanding arise? It seems to go back to a kind of post-Imperial British feeling of entitlement and inflated self-importance. We're still a nuclear power after all. We may have the second most impressive lot of aircraft carriers in the world by 2023 and we're still at the top table of the UN in the Security Council. There's been this feeling all along that Europe needs us more than we need them; an arrogant conceit that we, the anglo-saxons, are still going to show those failing Eurocrats exactly how it all should be done.

So on Saturday protestors filled the pavements, carriageways and cycle tracks of London, clambering over the brand new granite kerbs of Cycle Superhighway 2 in Parliament Square to push for a different, more realistic course than the one the 52% chose. I will leave the EU debate and go back to discussing cycle infrastructure in my next post. Some divisions are bad, but kerbs are OK.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Letter to my MP Barry Gardiner on the EU and Parliament

To Barry Gardiner MP, Member of Parliament for Brent North

Dear Barry,

Allow me to congratulate you on your appointment as Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary.

What I am writing to you about however is not primarily this, but the EU referendum result and the role of Parliament. It is not disconnected, however, to your portfolio, as you well know that the role of the EU in trying to reach global agreement on limiting emissions and climate change has been critical, and this role threatens being diluted by the prospect of UK disengagement from the EU.

Fundamentally, my points are these:

  • The referendum result was marginal: too marginal to be a mandate for such far-reaching change that will affect generations to come. We know that young people voted primarily to ‘remain’, and they will have to cope with the long-term consequences of a British exit from the EU. The marginal result needs to be taken with consideration that the very young, but of age, i.e. 16 and 17 year olds, were not allowed to vote, and that long-term EU foreign nationals resident in the UK, working and paying taxes here, were not allowed to vote on this measure, hugely important to their futures. This obviously includes a huge number of residents of Brent North.
  • Your constituents, and Londoners more widely, voted by a large majority to ‘remain’.
  • The ‘Leave’ vote has already led to economic and financial instability, and more importantly, fear in many communities you represent, with an upsurge in racial harassment and racially-motivated crime across the country
  • The main planks of the 'Leave’ campaign were based on misleading information and false promises, already widely discredited and acknowledged as false by the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, such as the promise that the UK could control migration from within the EU while retaining some kind of access to the Single Market, and the promise to send an extra £350 million on the Health Service
  • We know that many ‘Leave’ voters now regret their vote in the light of coming to understand the above
  • The referendum, in the light of the above, cannot be considered a reliable indication of the will of the British people, and its result is manifestly not in their long-term interest
  • The jobs of many of your constituents, particularly those working in the City and financial sector, are threatened by the prospect of the UK leaving the EU, and by the uncertainty that the referendum result has generated
  • The referendum was only advisory, and Parliament is not bound by the result. Parliament is sovereign and Members of Parliament must use their own best judgement to decide whether the UK should remain in or leave the EU – this is their duty
  • The present situation, with the leaders of the 'Leave’ campaign stating that they will negotiate a deal with the EU before formally beginning the Article 50 secession process laid down by the Treaty of Lisbon, and the leaders and officials of the EU stating clearly and unanimously that this is not possible, and that the UK must invoke Article 50 before negotiations commence, is a recipe for ongoing paralysis, vacuum of leadership, and economic and social instability
  • In any case, the type of deal that the leaders of the ‘Leave' campaign state is their goal is not possible, as all the leaders of the EU have said that there can be no access to the Single Market without full Free Movement of people – so, again, we face paralysis leading to long-term economic and social damage to the country
  • Parliament has it within its powers to solve this dreadful situation in the only way possible: by refusing to agree to the invoking of Article 50 and refusing to agree to the UK leaving the EU.

Therefore, I am calling on you to say that you will vote in any vote in Parliament to oppose any steps that may be taken to facilitate the UK leaving the European Union, and that you will work to persuade your colleagues to do the same.

Thank you very much.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr David Arditti

Edgware,
Middlesex

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Brexiters' dream is a post-Imperal delusion

As we draw to the end of this very unpleasant referendum campaign, it is worth, I think, recalling why we are where we are. It essentially goes back (as do so many things in modern Britain) to Mrs Thatcher. It was her volte-face on Europe that split the Conservative Party, the split that ultimately led this referendum to be called. After being strongly pro-European in the early part of her premiership, continuing the tradition of pervious Conservative leaders (including Edward Heath, who took the UK into the EEC, as it then was), including signing the Single European Act (the Luxembourg Treaty) in 1986, which gave the first real powers to the European parliament, she did a 180 degree turn on the subject for reasons best known to herself. Half the Conservative Party follwed her, and half continued allegiance to the older conservative pro-Europe line. The next leader, John Major, was bedevilled with this problem, and could not solve it, though he got the Maastricht Treaty, which created the modern EU, through. David Cameron's solution to this same, ongoing problem of the bitterly-divided Tory party was to call this referendum. The nation overall did not want it: it is important for our European friends to understand this.

The European Union was actually proposed by a British Conservative Prime minister in the first place: Winston Churchill. But it was always unclear whether he saw Britain as part of that future entity or not. Probably, he did not: he shared the romantic Victorian-Edwardian attachment to the dream of some future theoretical and impractical 're-union of the English-spaking peoples' (presumably including the USA, Canada, Australia and so on) that would then separate us from Europe. A similar transatlantic-gazing viewpoint is it the root of the views of many of the current Leavers: that we can somehow go on to exploit our cultural and economic attachments with those anglophone parts of the world more thoroughly if only we can leave the EU behind. Unfortunately, in the real world, as opposed to that of Rudyard Kipling's and Arthur Conan Doyle's fiction, we can't.

There are of course some on the radical left of UK politics campaigning for 'Leave'. Some of these are people for I have great respect. Baroness Jones (Jenny Jones, former Green London Assembly Member) is one of these. I attended her leaving party at City Hall before the May election to congratulate her ( and her colleague Darren Johnson) on all they had done for cycling in their time at City Hall. Nevertheless, I'd like to take her to task on her pro-Brexit position (which is at odds with the majority opinion in her party). This essentially amounts to: 'THe EU is broken and undemocratic. There's no chance we can fix it, so we should leave'.

I find this a very strange position for anyone of an internationalist disposition to take. So if the EU is 'broken', we leave, and what? We leave 300 million people in a 'broken' institution, and we give up any influence in trying to improve it or reform it? That can't be right. I can only imagine the rationale is that she (and others like her) hope that the EU will simply fall apart in reaction to Brexit. I have to say I find this a deeply improbable proposition. The UK leaving the EU will not have that much effect on the citizens of the rest of the Union, or on their politicians. The EU will be able to adapt and continue. The supposed fragility of the EU and its institutions has been consistently overplayed by our media. We've heard nothing about the Euro (ever) except 'It's on the brink of collapse'. Except that it hasn't collapsed. It's had a rocky time, but basically, this project, to place under a monetry union the economically diverse and divergent nations from Portugal to Austria and Finland to Crete , this incredibly improbable and ambitious project, has succeeded. It's not going back.

Similarly, if the UK leaves, there's going to be no shortage of new nations wanting to accede to the EU, and there's going to be no domino effect of old members wanting to leave. The EU is going to continue, grow, and strengthen as an entity, without us. We'll have to negotiate a new deal with the EU over trade and labour movement, and it's going to have to have many of the characteristics of the deal we have now. If we cease to pay into the European budget we're going to lose all influence over how the rules are set up, but we're basically going to have to continue to abide by those rules to trade. There's not going to be the free lunch the Brexiters want. We're going to have to accept freedom of movement if we want to be within the trading block on anything like reasonably advantageous terms. Or, maybe we'll be offered a deal whereby we pay to be out of the agreement on freedom of movement but within the trading area. In either case, we're not going to get what the Brexiters claim we might get. The EU has to defend itself, ultimately, in response to  defection. It obviously can't offer an ex-member state a deal so advantageous that it might tempt others to secede. There has to be a punishment for leaving the club. That punishment will surely be felt in the purse of ever UK citizen in a Brexit world.

An anonymous cartoon gleaned off Twitter which crudely but effectively summarises the problem with the Brexit position

The world of science and the world of the arts both thrive on international co-operation, and their representative organisations are uniformly sending out the message that Brexit would be a scientific and cultural disaster: see for example the press release from the Royal Astronomical Society, or this piece by, extraordinarily, Jenny Jones's ex-GLA Green colleague, Darren Johnson and champion of cycling in Outer London (with whom I got drunk in a south London pub not long ago), now turned music journalist. The response of the Brexiters, that the EU is 'not a magic money tree' really doesn't cut it. It completely misunderstands what the experts in these fields are saying, what they know. As the RAS puts it:
Participation in trans-national programmes... has more impact than those carried out by single countries, even if they are funded at the same level. The coordination of projects across the European continent prevents duplication of effort, and allows scientists to more effectively share resources.
Much the same goes for the arts, for which freedom of movement is hugely important. And anyway, the Brexiters aren't saying the money we would save from EU membership would be spent on science and the arts. They seem to have committed that money to building more hospitals. Or something. But we won't have the money for hospitals if our science base, on which our high-tech industries depend, collapses.

In fact the Leavers have no coherent economic plan, and little understanding of why the EU is there in the form that it is in the first place. It was a response to a Europe almost destroyed by a century of war between major powers (if you date that century back to the Franco Prussian War of the 1870). The EU has made the Europe that generated those wars an unimaginably remote history to all who are young today.

The 'democracy' arguments trotted out by the Bexit side make no sense. None of them seem to have noticed that the UK is still dominated by a monarchy and a hereditary aristocracy and that two-thirds of our law-making parliament is unelected. The European Parliament, elected by proportional representation, is the most democratic layer of government England (outside London, which has the GLA) has got. The Council of Ministers consists of people appointed by the Westminster government and its equivalents in the other member states. There is a huge range of public bodies in the UK that wield great influence over citizens' lives that are far less democratic. I don't hear the Brexiters in general talking about removing the undemocratic influence of mediaeval bodies within the UK like the Corporation of London, the Royal Parks Agency or the Verderers of the New Forest.

Of course the EU is deeply imperfect in its democratic structures. But it is misrepresented as some sort of monster developing in its own way beyond the control of the citizens of its constituent states. Most of the nonsense claims of the Brexit side in this respect are simply knocked out by the observation that our government and parliament have had a veto over every significant change in the powers and operation of the EU over its history since we joined. We have agreed to it all: our Prime Ministers, cabinets and parliaments from Heath to Cameron have agreed to it all. We could have stopped anything we didn't want, and in fact we did stop lots of things. Other provisions, like the Shengen agreement on open borders, and monetary union, we opted-out of, for better or worse. The veto we had over treaty changes, plus the influence that being one of the biggest economies and biggest contributors made us, ensured that the UK influence in the development of the EU was always huge. We created the EU, with others. For us to leave it now would be like a person abandoning a house they had built, and into which they had sunk all our resources, with no realistic prospect of finding another remotely as comfortable or accommodating.

The EU is not a superstate, and is not heading to be one. There's a simple economic reason it can't be one. It's central administration takes only about 0.5% of the member nations' GDP. Its bureaucracy is on the scale of that of an English county council. I've seen it. I've been to Brussels to talk to the Transport Committee Chair of the European Parliament about cycling (who was then an English MEP). Such a small organisation with that level of funding can never take control of Europe in the manner of the Federal Government of the United States. It would take a massive change of policy on behalf of all the governments of the member states, acting unanimously, to start heading it in that direction. That ain't going to happen. And as for Ever closer union, that famous phrase, what doea it mean? I think it is correctly interpreted not as a vision of a superstate; I think it means rather an ever-closer spiritual and cultural union, an evolution towards a state of cooperation between the European peoples that makes conflict between them ever less conceivable. I believe this is what the founding fathers of the EU meant by that phrase. Then again, perhaps it doesn't mean anything at all.

I could go on and on on this subject, but I had better not. I haven't mentioned environmental legislation, worker's rights, so many other aspects of the story of why the EU is a worthwhile institution that has done the its peoples good. And I haven't touched on the how a UK vote to leave the EU will almost certainly herald the break up of the UK, through triggering another Scottish independence referendum, as Scotland will certainly vote to remain. Even more serious are the likely consequence for Northern Ireland and peace in the Island of Ireland, where the existing post Good Friday Agreement consensus, of devolved provincial government within a UK that is united with the Republic within the EU, will be broken. And, in case you are one of those worried by immigration (I'm not, like most people in London and other big cities who are used to everyone being immigrants from somewhere) I haven't touched on the fact also, that with less co-operation from EU member states and France in particular, we'll probably get more illegal immigration and asylum claims to deal with.
YouGov's map of voting intentions by local authority. Scotland will vote 'remain' and the UK cannot survive Brexit.
For cycling, the usual topic of this blog, the freedom of movement we have enjoyed since EU accession I am convinced has contributed to the cultural and information-exchange process that has allowed us to reach the point of importing some of the best pro-cycling policies Europe has produced into at least some British cities. For example, if we hant't had freedom of movement, would the Hembrows have settled down in Assen and provided us with the information and cross-cultural Dutch translation that we needed for the Go Dutch campaign in London? Such questions are unanswerable, and I need to get this blogpost out in time to make, I hope, one or two undecided voters to think in some new ways.

England was deeply part of cultural Europe until the reign of Henry VIII, the break with Rome, and the destruction of most English art by his henchman Thomas Cromwell. Our focus was more on remote territories for the next four centuries, but our attention was forced back to Europe by the wars of the twentieth century and the loss of our empire. The accession to the EEC was an important, defining event for those of my generation, too young to vote in the 1977 referendum called by Harold Wilson (whose Labour cabinet was divided over Europe), but brought up, post-decimalisation and post-metrication to think, at least to some extent, of ourselves as European citizens, with our maroon European passports. I am a product of the wider Europe, coming from a family on my father's side of wandering, Sephardic Jews, traders between the Christian and Moslem worlds, who had come from Spain at the time of the Inquisition, and spread across Europe, North Africa and the Near East, to Morocco, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, France, arriving in my great grandfather's time in England in 1898; while on my mother's side I am a descendent of  mid-european Catholics, inhabitants of a mountainous and fiercely independent region, the South Tyrol, fought over by Papal, Napoleonic, Hapsburg, and Italian armies for centuries, and still not really, comfortably settled into one of the states of modern Europe (though now forming a largely German-speaking Italian province with a high degree of autonomy from Rome).

I am one of those people whom Boris Johnson claims don't exit: who feel an 'underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe', that is, feels 'European'. I think there are a lot more of us. I think there may be enough of us to swing this divisive and dividing referendum against the old England post-Imperial delusionists on Thursday. We will see.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

A crossroads

As we approach the Mayoral election tomorrow in London, and the end of Boris Johnson's eight years in office, so the builders race to finish his principal legacy to London before he finally vacates the chair. Not the bus that gets too hot, not the cable car that only has one regular passenger, not the quite pointless two-way conversion of a few streets around Piccadilly that were one-way, not, for God's sake, the preposterous, as yet unbuilt, Garden Bridge. No, his principal legacy is the four segregated Cycle Superhighways, and principally the East-West Superhighway (which it would appear now will be eventually designated CS3, continuous with the existing CS 3 to Beckton), and the North-South superhighway, which has been designated CS 6. These meet at the crossroads of Blackfriars Bridge north side. The system is not yet fully open, but it seems likely to be so within weeks or even days.

Cyclists waiting at the signals at the interchange between the two Superhighways at Blackfriars (via @London_Cycling)
This blog started with articles covering the cycle protests at Blackfriars towards the end of Johnson's first term in office, at which stage he had done little for cycling except paint meaningless and dangerous blue 'Superhighway' markings on some roads. The protests were against this lack of progress, the danger at major London junctions controlled by the mayor for cyclists (and pedestrians), the cycle deaths that had occurred at Blackfriars and elsewhere on account of poor or non-existent cycle infrastructure and terrible, antiquated motor-centric road designs, and against a scheduled rebuild of the Blackfriars junction that promised to make it no better for cyclists and pedestrians. Blackfriars was where all this started.

I reported on the cycle hustings, organised by The Times, in 2012, where Boris appeared to lose his temper with the cycle activists and insulted us with silly remarks about 'morally superior' cyclists and 'brown skinny legs'. I reported:
It appeared to me that Boris made no concessions to the campaigns of the last year at all. He did not admit that his Cycle Superhighways have been very poor and have not lived up to the initial promises he made for them. He did not agree that cycling casualties per mile are increasing. He several times referred to people who want a cycling infrastructure "ideal world" which is unachievable, implying that talk of giving cyclists proper, protected space on London's main roads, in other words, Going Dutch, is not really possible. Towards the end of the meeting he seemed to be implying that the cyclists in the room were all greeny unrealistic lefties, wanting to see the back of all motor traffic in London, saying, in a bizarre improvisation on words, that it was not possible to "Pasturise [or should that be Pasteurise] London".
Well, what we didn't know at that moment was that Boris had already agreed, by the time that meeting started,  to sign the LCC's Love, London, Go Dutch pledge to build proper cycle infrastructure in London. The die was cast. Cycle lobbying had become a significant political force in London, which he had to realistically acknowledge. This may have been a cynical move for him at that moment, as I believed in 2012, it is hard to tell, but the evidence now is that he came to believe late, but sincerely, that Go Dutch was a good policy.

Fast forward to last Friday, and we had the second Times cycle hustings, this time badged as The future of London transport: a recognition (perhaps) of the way cycling has been moved, by campaigners and enlightened politicians, from a niche subject associated with sport and fitness to one that is regarded as having major economic and social significance in the likely future development of the city.

Ashok Sinha, CEO of London Cycling Campaign, introducing The Times cycle hustings last Friday
At this hustings, we had none of the Boris-style rancour. In fact it was almost bland, with all the mayoral candidates (with the exception of the UKIP one) having signed-up to the LCC's demands this time round (due to another fantastic effort by campaigners, not just in LCC, but in Londoners on Bikes and Stop Killing Cyclists) and a general agreement that cycling has become mainstream transport policy, that future growth in the capital is anticipated and to be catered for, and that the infrastructure developments started under Johnson must be continued. This, at least, was the general rhetoric of the meeting.

On the other hand, none of the candidates were themselves regular cyclists, with the exception of the Green candidate Sian Berry. Boris always had that going for him. He definitely knew what it was really like on the streets. There was a lack of real passion from the Labour and Conservative candidates, Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith on the subject that may ring warning-bells. Formally they all seemed to be saying the right things: Khan talked about making London a by-word for cycling, 'On a par with Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin'. (The inclusion of that last city will raise eyebrows for anyone who has a first-hand knowledge). Goldsmith promised to spend £100 million per year on cycling if elected. This would potentially keep the infrastructure building programme going at its current rate, though might not be enough to achieve LCC's demand of a tripling of the length of segregated Superhighways, plus a mini-Holland scheme in every borough that wanted it. Khan refused to be pinned down on money, while Berry promised 15% of the TfL budget, which would be almost four times as much as Goldsmith's commitment.

Johnson's margin of victory in 2012 was only 62,000 votes. With the polls close again, and with certainly at least 100,000 regular cyclists in the capital, and enough others interested enough in the subject to be willing to vote primarily on the basis of this issue, or be strongly swayed by it, and with the level of organisation of the cycle lobby, it is clear that candidates now have to court it, as has been noted even on BBC news.

Goldsmith should have been the easy winner of the cycle vote. He came with a track-record of supporting 'green' causes, unusually for a Conservative MP, and he was a one-time editor of The Ecologist magazine. And as a Conservative successor to Boris, sharing many similar views, he might have been expected to want to continue his legacy. But from the beginning of this campaign he has blundered and fumbled about this issue. At every opportunity he has seemed to want to talk up electric cars as being the future of personal transport in the city, almost as if he were in the pay of the manufacturers. He even suggested in an early interview that they might be allowed to use bus lanes, which would of course be disastrous for the many cyclists who still depend on bus lanes for some small measure of protection and priority where cycle lanes do not exist, should electric cars actually become popular. Later he became known for a quote in an LBC interview where he commented that if cycle highways did not work and were shown to increase pollution he would 'rip them up'. When this caused consternation, he claimed he was being 'hounded' by cycle campaigners.

He tried to clarify and distance himself from these earlier comments in the hustings last week, claiming he had been misrepresented, and that he had only been stating a common sense position that if any piece of transport infrastructure were shown not to be working, one should consider removing it. But I think that emotive, unforgettable phrase, 'rip them up' is going to be inscribed on the tombstone of his campaign to become Mayor of London. Of course I'd agree that if a cycle facility isn't working, and isn't attracting cyclists, and isn't facilitating their progress in a safe manner, it should be removed. But, heres the point: it should then be replaced with a better facility. Goldsmith doesn't say this second part. He has never said that. He also seems to not understand that a piece of cycle infrastructure cannot 'cause pollution'. It is the motorists who are doing that. Goldsmith has repeatedly adopted the rhetoric of the 'bikelash' anti-cycle lane campaigners: the bizarre idea that cycling schemes force motorists to pollute.

He may promise to spend money on cycling, but when it comes to all specific cycling issues, Goldsmith has been found wanting. He has repeatedly criticised the consultation process for the Superhighways and mini-Holland schemes, and repeated this criticism at the hustings. This criticism mirrors that of the 'bikelash' campaigners who want consultations re-run indefinitely to try to achieve a different result: consultations that typically have seen about two-thirds backing for the cycle schemes, after a huge response and a hugely expensive public engagement exercise. Goldsmith always comments that the Walthamstow and Enfield mini-Holland schemes have had poor consultation and been unpopular (not true), while, according to him, the scheme in his constituency, the Kingston mini-Holland, has been well-consulted and has been popular, and he states he 'hasn't received a single letter of protest about it'. But he doesn't seem to have noticed that the other mini-Holland schemes are far more ambitious, particularly the Walthamstow one, which has achieved a far greater change in a short time.

Part of the Enfield mini-holland scheme: Orford road, a town centre street transformed for walking and cycling
There is always going to be more resistance to more ambitious and more effective cycling and walking schemes. Goldsmith has shown he lacks the backbone to stand up to the short-term, short-sighted reactions of those who initially feel threatened. He has stated that he would waste TfL money and waste time by re-running the consultation on CS 11, decisively supported by a two-thirds majority. He has clearly allied himself with the opponents of effective cycling schemes. We've all noticed that. He was the last to sign up to Sign for Cycling of the major candidates. He waited for Khan to sign first. His attempt to re-establish his cycling credentials in an interview with the estimable Chris Boardman (that Boardman had to pretty much hound him to obtain) came too late. And still he comes out sounding wrong. In an interview for the Evening Standard today, Wednesday 4 May, headlined I'd be the greenest Mayor: pledege to clean up air with tax penalty on gas guzzlers, there's no mention of cycling in 25 paragraphs. With the East-West Superhighway likely to open tomorrow, election day, and under a headline on air pollution, he doesn't feel the need to mention cycling. He's not going to get many cyclists' votes.

His Labour rival, Sadiq Khan, has wisely avoided commenting on specific current cycle schemes, by and large, apart from one odd interview in which the expressed an idea that some of the new cycle tracks were too wide: a comment greeted with incredulity in a city famous the world over for having ridiculously narrow cycle lanes and tracks. But he has repeatedly emphasised, and did so again in the hustings, the need for more segregated  cycle tracks. Goldsmith has not done this, preferring to talk about Quietways (which have failed) and min-Hollands. Khan's manifesto commitments to cycling are more complete and convincing than Goldsmith's, despite his refusal to be specific on the money he would spend. Khan's comment that he would not yet be happy with his close family members cycling in London doesn't say to me he is talking down the potential of cycling, it says to me he understands the real safety issues that still prevent most Londoners who would benefit from cycling from using it as a daily means of transport. As the son of a bus driver, associated with the bus lobby, he doesn't seem the best politician to continue Boris's cycling legacy. Nevertheless, he seems a far better bet than Goldsmith.

Anyone who takes up the mayor's chair and tries to promote cycling will experience a backlash from some of the old guard officials at Transport for London: we know that. There are people there who think they have now 'done' cycling, and with the opening of Boris's cycle tracks, they can get back to more serious business. The new mayor has to face them down and tell them, 'Sorry son, we've only just started on this'. We have to judge whom of the main candidates is most likely to do this. Cycling commentator Bill Chidley attended the meeting on CS11 that Goldsmith organised in St John's Wood, and commented:
My own impression... was that Zac is nice but dim, but entirely lacking in stomach. At one point, he said that he didn't believe in "imposing grandiose schemes on local communities" - which is exactly what the Mayor is mandated and obliged to do.
And an observer from Camden Cyclists commented on the meeting on how  
He visibly shifted in response to sentiment in the room. [Most of the attendees were from the noisy minority of car-centric NW8 residents opposed to the Superhighway]
At least Boris wasn't afraid to appear unpopular in a meeting. He wasn't afraid of that at the 2012 cycle hustings, but we've also seen in a video of a TfL board meeting how he personally pushed the E-W Superhighway project along against prevarication from other Board members. Would Goldsmith do this? It looks very unlikely. London is at a crossroads, and it looks like a Mayor Goldsmith would turn in a different direction. The London 'cycling revolution' would be in severe danger with Goldsmith in charge.

The London Green Party has consistently been the most in touch with cycling issues over the past four years, with Green Assembly Members Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson consistently asking pertinent questions of the Mayor, compiling relevant papers and reports, and actually getting out on bikes on the roads in all parts of London to find out what cycling conditions are actually like there: not just in Westminster and the City, but in remote car-dominated suburbs too. I showed Jenny Jones round the appalling Neasden gyratory system on one occasion (which she said was the most depressing experience she had had on her cycling survey of London), and this (and this blog) influenced a valuable report on cycling in Outer London produced by the London Greens. Very recently I showed Green Assembly candidate Caroline Russell around the Brent Cross area and the A41 Hendon Way, where TfL seem to have abandoned plans for an outer section to CS 11, but where safe space for cycling is desperately needed.

Retiring Green Assembly Member Jenny Jones and Green Assembly candidate Caroline Russell studying the awful cycling environment around Brent Cross in Barnet with me this April (Photo by Jonathan Briggs)
The Greens have been engaged in the issue beyond other parties, pushing Boris every step of the way, though there has also been sterling work by Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat Assembly Member and mayoral candidate. I'm therefore going to be voting for Sian Berry for Mayor as my first preference. I'd like to vote for Pidgeon as well, but the system means that the second preference vote must go to the candidate who can stop the worst candidate, who is Goldsmith. So my second preference vote will be for Sadiq Khan. I recommend all those who give their first preference vote to Berry or Pidgeon to give second preference to Khan.

In the vote for London-wide assembly members, I recommend a vote for 'Green' for the reasons given above. The two Green Assembly members (who are both retiring) have been critical to ensuring London has progressed this far in creating a cycleable and walkable city, and their successors I am certain, from personal discussion, will carry on that work. The more of them that are elected under the proportional London-wide ballot the better.

The vote for Constituency Assembly members is a 'first past the post' system. For those in my constituency, Brent and Harrow, I recommend a vote for the sitting Labour Assembly Member, Navin Shah. He has also worked hard on behalf of walking and cycling, persistently asking the mayor awkward questions, particularly about Barnet's proposed ugly, car-centric Brent Cross Cricklewood development. At a recent meeting in which I personally questioned him, he affirmed his support for more segregated Superhighways and a mini-Holland in every borough, and said he believed CS 11 should go ahead as planned. For those in the Barnet and Camden constituency, I recommend a vote for Andrew Dismore, again the sitting Labour Assembly member, as he has also been helpful.

Things have moved on so far from when I first started campaigning, decades ago, when cycle schemes were so insignificant and below the public radar as never to be discussed even by senior councillors, and were hardly known to anyone except some sad campaigners and equally sad junior council officers, who were never promoted. We're in a different world today, with national-level politicians forced to answer on exactly what they will do for those wanting to travel on two wheels, and knowing that their answers will matter for their future. London is at a crossroads on its journey to become a people-friendly city. The opening of the Superhighway within hours of election day will be apt and rather symbolic. If you have votes in this election, please use them carefully to ensure that journey continues.


Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Antisemitism in Labour

Disclaimer: I'm not a member of the Labour Party, or a registered supporter. I'm not Jewish, but I have a Jewish background and live with a Jew.

The business of 'antisemitism within the Labour Party' is basically nonsense. The affair is clearly constructed to undermine Jeremy Corbyn by his opponents both inside and outside the party and fed off by an uncritical press. There's just no evidence for the accusation of real antisemitism being a significant trend in the Labour Party (unlike various types of racism being significant trends in several other major parties).

The worrying thing to me is that the very terrm is losing its meaning. People are forgetting what real antisemitism is. There appears to be an attempt by some to define critical comment on Israel as 'antisemitic'. This is an affront to freedom of speech and is illiberal.

Indeed, it should be possible to argue even against the existence of the state of Israel in its current form – that is, in favour of a completely different political settlement for all the peoples in that region of the Middle East – and not be accused of antisemitism. (I am not going to do that here, but it should be possible, according to the supposed maxim of Voltaire I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.) The states of the world are artificial creations and we must be able, in free and liberal debate to question, not merely the actions and policies, but the existence of any of them, or to argue that the world would be better not organised into independent states at all, but in some other way. After all, the way states cut across ethnic and religious divides is a problem all over the world, not just in the Middle East. It's wrong to try to shut down such debate with accusations of various kinds of racism. Racism, hatred and prejudice based on race, of which antisemitism is a special case, is nothing to do with this, indeed it lies at an opposite, irrational, pole of discourse.

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is not a racist in any way and I don't believe he is an antisemite. He does very make ill-judged comments. As has been pointed out in a perceptive piece by Adam Ramsay, though it is true that Hitler did at some stages of his career propose transporting Jews to Israel, to mention this is the flippant way he did, just before mentioning 'Zionism', risks, without much more detailed clarification, recalling a truly antisemitic conspiracy narrative of 'Zionists being being in league with Hitler'. I doubt Livingstone was aware of this, but he should have been aware of the fact that,  as Ramsay writes,
The speed with which conversations about anything relating to Jewishness in politics return to something relating to the man who murdered the parents or grandparents of many of the Jewish people around today must be deeply hurtful for huge numbers. It's generally not appropriate to turn such conversations to Hitler and Nazis without a very compelling reason.
Saying in his next sentence Hitler had 'gone mad' in order to kill six million Jews (and many others) compounded the problem because 'madness', or insanity, is an argument used to try to reduce culpability for those accuse of murder and other heinous crimes: it is a legal defence that barristers try to use to diminish punishment for those accused. Nobody argues that Hitler was 'mad' in that sense, and I don't think Livingstone meant that, he was talking casually. But his words could be misinterpreted as an attempt to 'clean up' Hitler, which is actually the last thing I believe he was trying to do.

Livingstone's later attempted clarification of his remarks tended to make matters worse. Speaking on BBC Two he said:
A real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their Jewish neighbours in Golders Green or Stoke Newington, it’s a physical loathing.
Clearly if you 'hate the Jews in Israel' you are an anti-semite, full stop. And racism may not be a 'physical loathing'. It may be just a vague background framework of attitudes. But to build a case on the basis of these remarks for Livingstone himself being 'antisemitic' is loading far too much meaning on to flip comments and slips like the preposition in that sentence 'just'. I predict that Labour's investigation into him will end up exonerating him of the charge of antisemitism,  cautioning him to speak more carefully in future, and re-instating him to party membership.

There are bad eggs in every basket, but the Labour Party has actuially been fantastically hot at investigating all claimed cases of racism, including antisemitism, in its ranks, unlike other parties. This is in its tradition and nature. But we see, simultaneously, Conservative candidate for London mayor Zac Goldsmith running a thinly-veiled anti-Islamic campaign against the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan (A campaign which, I predict also, will do him very little good in this cosmopolitan city.)

Livingstone has often made silly and insensitive comments on various topics. They should be ignored and people should move on. This is not antisemitism. It's a storm in an anti-Corben and Conservative teacup.

I hope to return to London cycling matters shortly. In the meantime, I agree wholeheartedly with the voting recommendations (and rationale) of Londoners on Bikes.