Tag Archives: politics

Party Paradox

Hustings are hard to read. Even before the candidates open their mouths factors have already influenced the opinions about to be formed; every attendee arrives preprogrammed with a lifetime of preferences and biases, and in this case, just like the tv version, decisions about which candidates will participate have been made by the organisers.


Witney Hustings, Methodist Church, Monday 10 October

Then when the candidates do speak, their words are variously bolstered, dismissed and occasionally rejected by an audience with several partisan elements. Attempting to separate out the activists and party faithful to form an objective opinion about which candidate has been the most influential with the punter is itself subjective. But sometimes a moment stands out.

Continue reading

Presumed Liability: Who Benefits?

Topically for me, Denmark got a mention during this UCL Cycling @ Lunchtime talk about presumed liability (gets into its stride at 7m45s) although that wasn’t what made it memorable.

Derek Halden, presenting on behalf of Road Share (a campaign rather than a charity – at least under that name) gave a fairly factual explanation of what PL is, what it isn’t, and how it would help victims like a 13 year old Scottish girl who had to wait 10 years for a claim of compensation to be settled. But for one thing. Something that acted like a magician’s misdirection or one of Lynton Crosby’s dead cats. The suggestion that introducing PL reduces casualties.

As I recall, my twitter timeline erupted into a polarised slanging match. Nobody was thinking about victims – people ‘encouraged’ by the authorities and various cycling orgs to get on their bikes in a transport system that’s stacked against them when it goes wrong – because they’d moved on to a cerebral pissing match about what works best in the absence of any hard evidence to prove or disprove where PL ranks.

Based on that my conclusion is this: DON’T DO IT.

No matter how much you qualify the statement by pointing out that it’s a correlation rather than a proven cause, don’t suggest that simply by introducing a legal framework to look after victims it will prevent them becoming victims in the first place. Regardless of how good safety stats are in some of the places where PL operates, there are still people there being knocked off their bikes or their feet. They are the people who need presumed liability and would suffer most if it didn’t exist. Don’t lose sight of who it actually benefits.

And that was despite a slide devoted to how PL is misrepresented and misunderstood(!) and which had the best piece of advice I’ve seen for some time…

“Systems thinking needed.”

More on that to come [insert link here].

Plus Ça Change

I’ve been invited to the Big Cycling Debate on Monday and was asked to submit a question to the panel of MPs representing the three ‘main’ parties:

“The Get Britain Cycling report contains many images of bicycles on the cover and within its pages. Should it be more accurately titled Get Britain Bicycling?”

I was asked by CTC to submit a different question – referring to a 2 year old report from the last big cycling debate involving parliamentarians has no relevance to their respective policy positions on cycling. I guess things must have moved on.

This is the invite to the event.

big_cycling_debate_invitation_final copy

I started counting bicycles in the images of cycling policy and design documents last year and it’s turned me into an annoying little boy who can’t see the Emperor’s New Lycra. Every time a new one appears, the big cycling orgs stand around it, nodding appreciatively, and I’m left pointing and stuttering “b-b-but…”

What’s odd is I know for a fact that four of the organisations endorsing this debate are actively trying to do something for the riders of trikes, handbikes, tandems, tagalongs, cargobikes, etc (CTC alone held two Inclusive Cycling conferences this week) but ask one of them to come up with an image to represent ‘cycling’ in the national media and all of that’s forgotten. In fact I’m not sure why I’ve been invited.

Cycling: the more it changes, the more it stays the same.

Going by the Book

Paris, 1994…

“On Saturday afternoon we went to see Schindler’s List, the Steven Spielberg movie about the man who rescued Jews from the Nazi concentration camps, saving thousands of lives.

In later life, when I had got to know Spielberg, I told him how the movie had affected me more than any I had ever seen. Steven, being actually a rather modest person, probably thought I was exaggerating in that way theatrical people do, but I wasn’t. I was spellbound throughout the whole three and a quarter hours. We sat through it, missed our dinner and talked about it long into the night.

There was a scene in it I kept coming back to. The commandant, played by Ralph Fiennes, is in his bedroom arguing with his girlfriend. He gets up to urinate, they’re still arguing and she is mocking him, just like any girlfriend might do. While in the bathroom, he spies an inmate of the camp. He takes up his rifle and shoots him. They carry on their argument. It’s her I think of. She didn’t shoot anyone; she was a bystander.

Except she wasn’t. There were no bystanders in that situation. You participate, like it or not. You take sides by inaction as much as by action. Why were the Nazis able to do these things? Because of people like him? No, because of people like her.

She was in the next room. She was proximate. The responsibility seems therefore more proximate too. But what of the situations we know about, but we are not proximate to? What of the murder distant from us, the injustice we cannot see, the pain we cannot witness but which we nonetheless know is out there? We know what is happening, proximate or not. In that case, we are not bystanders either. If we know and we fail to act, we are responsible.

A few months later, Rwanda erupted in genocide. We knew. We failed to act. We were responsible.

Not very practical, is it, as a reaction? The trouble is it’s how I feel. Whether such reactions are wise in someone charged with leading a country is another matter. But more of that later.”

That’s an excerpt from Tony Blair’s political memoir A Journey. It’s early on in the book and palms up he’s casting a seed for the inevitable discussion about the various wars to come. A personalised, dramatised variation on the phrase “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Did TB have that in mind at the time? Is the girlfriend in the metaphor the ‘good men’?

In 2015, I’d hardly put the book down when the news media began following the movements of a young woman linked to another killer. We’re in Paris again and a lingering question formed – is she the girlfriend in the metaphor? And then I thought, what exactly did happen in that scene from Schindler’s List?

Things are bound to be a bit sketchy after 15 years, but we’ve got iTunes and its equivalents (Blockbusters then?) to check the details we’re about to put into print. So I did just that –  I hired the film to see what it portrays. Irritatingly, I’ve just found it’s also available to stream free

The scene begins at about 1h15m with the camp commandant, whose character Fiennes has already developed way beyond a-nasty-piece-of-work, standing on a balcony overlooking the camp.  There is no preceding argument, and juggling a cigarette he fires two shots killing two women. After the first Spielberg cuts to the young woman in bed putting a pillow over her head. After the second the killer walks into the bedroom and we hear the last shell case bounce as the next bullet is driven into the chamber. She throws the pillow at him. He laughs. He urinates.

Assuming there isn’t another cut of this film, TB’s asking us to leap with him from; half-naked woman armed with a pillow at the point of a recently fired gun to; bystanders, proximate or not, being responsible for horrific acts of violence.

And what of the ‘good men’? Aren’t women more likely to be bystanders in atrocities? Perhaps when they’re not the victims.

It’s a good film, but more manipulation like this and I feel I’m unlikely to finish the book before the election.

Please Make It Stop II

Meeting tonight at 7:30 in Langdale Hall, Witney about Green Party member and Bampton resident Mark Wood and other disabled people whose deaths have been connected to the policies and actions of the government’s Department of Work and Pensions.

Reported by the Oxford Mail and The Independent.

Another letter to Mark’s MP…

Dear David,

I wrote to you about your constituent Mark Wood at the beginning of March asking you three questions. When we spoke in June we didn’t manage to get beyond the first, the discussion becoming mired in your government’s perception that GPs are too soft to do the right thing for their patients. That was disheartening, and all I left with was the assurance that a DWP investigation was underway and would report soon.

So, here I am with yet another question: What is the result of the investigation into the actions of your government and the organisations they commissioned with regard to Mark Wood and his subsequent death?

Tonight I shall attend a meeting in Witney at which Mark Wood’s sister will speak. No doubt Cathie Wood will question why Mark’s MP has subsequently done nothing to get to the bottom of what happened, and at least ensure disabled people like Mark don’t suffer unnecessarily in the future. He hasn’t been the only one; Gill Thompson will address the meeting on behalf of her brother David Clapson who died after being ‘sanctioned’. There are more.

You’ve made much of your own family experience of disability recently. Since you’ve brought it up, valid as it is, it’s an experience of one disability in one family. The circumstances of other families living with other disabilities are very different. Are you sure your government is treating them with the same dignity you would wish for your own? I suggest to you that to date it hasn’t, and so I ask again, please make it stop.

Yours sincerely,


David Cameron is too busy

Gazing at the ceiling in Westminster’s Central Lobby on a comfy green leather bench. Beats waiting at the dentist. Are those bulbs in the candelabrum low energy? Judging by the blown ones they can’t be LEDs. Twenty five Watts each at a guess. Thirty two around the upper tier, sixty around the lower less the one where the holder’s dropped out. A rated total of… over 2kW. Looks like a job for Witney’s DFx Technology.

Natasha’s been and gone, responding to the Green Card I filled out. She said David’s in the chamber. I knew that. I can hear his disembodied voice straining above the din of PMQs, drifting across on the sound waves from a distant TV. Pretty much everyone knows where my MP is midday most Wednesdays.

Alan on the desk says Natasha’s checking again and she’ll phone the answer through but the Prime Minister’s bound to be busy. Freewheeling down the fast track to security the Bobby at the entrance called the same thing after me. I know he’s busy. What other reason could there be for not answering my letter over the past two months?

Greg Barker’s here. Jeremy Hunt shakes a hand and leaves with its owner. Tour parties crisscross the octagonal floor and the young woman beside me asks if Prime Minister’s Questions is over yet. It is, sometime ago. She’s early. Didn’t think she’d make it in time what with the tube strike. Yesterday was a nightmare on the bus, but the tube’s running again today. Isn’t the ceiling lovely?

We lean back. Alan comes over to share what he knew all along. My MP is too busy.

Bikes in Belgium

APPCGStudyTour01Having sampled the Netherlands, why go to Belgium?

Well, aside from the beer, the chocolate and it hanging handily on the end of the high speed Eurostar line, Belgium, or at least the parts we visited, is a country in transition in terms of local transport. Add the fact that it’s home to both the European Parliament and the European Cyclists’ Federation and it’s no big surprise the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group should arrange a study tour to take in some of the best bike infra Belgium has to offer, along with some of the more challenging.

Continue reading

Please Make It Stop

Too little too late, but it’s the best that I can do. The ideals and actions that exacerbated a disabled man’s suffering and eventually resulted in his death have no place in a civilised society. If this affects you, even just emotionally, please ask your representative to make it stop.

The coverage of Mark Wood’s death in the media…

Witney Gazette, The Independent, The Guardian, Mirror

Oxford Mail Editorial Comment

A letter to Mark’s MP…

Dear David,

I knew Mark Wood. Not well by any means, but well enough to understand the extent to which he struggled with his mental health and as a result his physical wellbeing too. He was your constituent.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know Mark had died until I read the news about the inquest into his death yesterday. I can’t imagine how his family must feel about being unable to help him. It appears that for Mark the desire to maintain his independence and remain in control over that which he could control contributed to his death. A desperately sad irony.

I’m also deeply ashamed to find myself part of a society that withdrew its support from Mark. Support that up until last year had enabled him to cope with life and even to contribute to the community he lived in. That was a shockingly cruel act.

I have some questions.

1.  Why was Mark’s GP, the person best placed to assess his mental and physical health, not consulted about the life changing decision that led to his death?

2.  Why is your government allowing the assessment of disabled people to be so poorly conducted when there is clear and mounting evidence of the scale of the mistakes and the harm that they do?

3.  Why is your government intending to effectively remove from many disabled people the right of appeal against these decisions by charging them to do so?

I read your piece in the Telegraph, “Why the Archbishop of Westminster is wrong about welfare“.  I have to say the evidence doesn’t support your view. Persecuting people because of a few bad apples isn’t fair nor is it cost effective.  Your government has put in motion changes to disabled people’s lives which are unnecessarily cruel. Please make it

Something Went Wrong


I won’t let you fall as low as I’ve been.
I promise to crawl until I’m back on my feet.
If something were wrong, do you think I’d leave?
If something went wrong, don’t you know I’d be here.

So who’s been unfair? Who causes you sorrow?
And who’s been unkind? Who’d burst your bubble?
And who drags you down, down, down, down…?
Who handed out lines? And now I’m in trouble.

I won’t let you fall as low as I’ve been.
I promise to crawl until I’m back on my feet.
If something were wrong, do you think I’d leave?
If something went wrong, don’t you know I’d be here.

A Pause for Thought

KingsThere’s a guy I see most weeks rides an old Raleigh Twenty Shopper around town. Like everyone else doing their own thing around town, once he’s parked up you wouldn’t know whether he’d walked, ridden or driven there, unless you happen to take a particular interest in people that ride classic british utility bicycles. Should that be allowed? To remain anonymous I mean.

Many think not, and what’s becoming most disturbing to me is that it appears to be some of the self identifying champions of ‘cycling’ who are the most vociferous in calling for mandatory measures to make people on bikes stand out in the crowd. I’ve got a theory about the tension between an individual’s natural desire for self preservation and the negative effect that has on the group of individuals as a whole – it’s like an arms race where apparent gains are wiped out by an accelerating mutually assured destruction – but it doesn’t explain why someone would care about a stranger’s wellbeing at least as much as their own. What’s in it for them?

Is it about fairness? Hell, if I’ve got to carry around all this extra stuff and stick out like a sore thumb then why shouldn’t you?

Is it about trial by association? Those people jumping on bikes and going places without a second thought are giving me a bad name. Make them stop it!

Is it about personality? A certain proportion of the population are intrinsically rule based – everything would work perfectly if everyone would just follow the rules all of the time. Which while being undeniably true is also a never ending source of disappointment for those afflicted with it on account of the rest of the human race being round pegs. Creating a law to force people to follow their rules would surely solve the problem.

Whatever it is, it’s a distraction. The question we ought to be asking is is it desirable, is it even possible, to get large numbers of people to dress in a particular way most of the time?

Looking around, people who are required to wear some form of identifiable clothing are either paid to do so, are participating in a sporting activity, are children, or are being persecuted for political ends. One of those is usually backed up by the use of a police force to coerce compliance.

Making short journeys by bike normal and convenient requires using a bike to be normal and convenient. Making cycling abnormal and inconvenient for the majority will do what? Well, it’ll prevent more people being killed and injured on bikes by the tried and tested method of keeping people off bikes in the first place.

If we’re at all serious about making bikes a useful decongesting mobility aid for the short journey, the very niche where it has the most chance of success, we need to start with a common understanding of what normal and convenient is along with some measures to ensure that convenience doesn’t come at the expense of an unacceptable increase in risk of injury.

A solution predicated on discrimination won’t work and isn’t worth having. If we can agree on that I can get on with part 3 of Using a Bike for Short Journeys. If we can’t, you’re wasting our time.

Jimmy Crackednut’s Guilt Trip

BrainAs the title of this blog suggests I fall over a lot. I fall off my bikes too. And out of my wheelchair – backwards as a rule. Usually it hurts.

Although I say so myself I’m pretty good at assessing the risks. The reason I’m pretty good at it is because I’ve got a lot of data to work with. Over the years, and I’m getting on a bit now, I’ve developed a fairly good idea of how likely it is to happen, which injuries I’m likely to sustain, and how bad they’re likely to be. And yes, I can confirm that alcohol increases the risk considerably.

To date, statistically, the chance of something really quite nasty happening to me is highest when in the shower. I take precautions but I still do it. Obviously wearing a helmet isn’t one of them.

Continue reading

What About Us?

NewInvestmentInCyclingUpTo2015Our Dave appeared to be promising us new cricket pitches for fracking this week – if we want them – but was far less generous with his announcement of cash for cycling. The nearest it gets to us is Oxford; precisely where OCC currently spends most of the county’s minuscule bike budget.

The new investment is being focussed, which is good, otherwise the (very approximately) £150 million over two years would be spread so thinly it wouldn’t stretch to an innertube each.

Continue reading