Voters On Bikes

Instances of cyclists being killed by drivers who then, more-or-less, get off with it, aren’t hard to find in Britain*. Today’s ride took me by Didcot. You get six months in prison, suspended, for killing a cyclist near Didcot, even if you’re driving illegally**.

Politicians are often keen to ‘send a message’ with sentencing – just think back to the last large-scale riots and the disproportionate government-directed judicial reaction to looting. There is only one deduction to make: the message politicians are happy for the judicial system to send out to motorists regarding killing cyclists is ‘well, we’d rather you didn’t but if you do, don’t worry, we’ll just give you a bit of a slap on the wrist’.

That’s not a grey area, that’s not open to debate; there’s nothing to quibble about here. The politicians in this country don’t much care about cyclists being killed; judged by their deeds rather than any cheap words, that’s a statement of fact.

If you’re a cyclist, any cyclist at all, that should inform your view of this country’s politicians, I suggest to the exclusion of any other consideration.

Forget the old, tired and trite left-wing / right wing politics; forget class-based politics; all those old divisions have long been meaningless. Review the past few decades of politics – as played out in reality, not as promised in manifestos, glib sound-bites and ‘spun’ for the media – and then forget any notion that one or another major party in Britain is morally, ethically or any other –ly ‘better’ than any of the others.

We live in a country governed, largely, by professional politicians who have opted to make a career out of politics in order to further their own interests – just like anyone in any other career. Perhaps there’s nothing inherently wrong in that, but understand it for what it is: we are governed by people who are driven to govern because of what they’ll get out of it. They’re not in it for your benefit, for my benefit or anyone else’s: they’re in it for themselves.

(That the desire to rule over people is determining someone’s chosen career is itself a trait that merits close examination, but that’s another issue.)

Lobbying is just a nice word for buying power – lobby politicians and you’re in effect, buying politicians, directly or indirectly. With the UK dominated by careerist politicians (local or national), then the way has never been more open for lobbying: careerist individuals are, by definition, all about advancement and attracting the attention of lobbyists (being bought), in this new scheme of things, simply means you’re doing well.

That leaves us cyclists with a choice. We could try and buy enough politicians to make a difference, but we’d be up against entrenched interests with very deep pockets. Arguably, ‘cyclists’ aren’t a coherent enough voice to organize and lobby for power anyway. Indeed, I’ve argued in the past that we need to be seen not as a group called ‘cyclists’ but as the diverse group of people we are: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, friends and lovers. ***

The alternative to buying politicians is voting them out of office. The more cyclists there are, the more of this basic political clout we have. We need to recognise our commonality – that we’re cyclists, that we’re voters on bikes, and that our politicians don’t much care about us – but beyond that, what we need to do is act as individuals against whatever politician, local or national, of whatever party, we are entitled to vote against by dint of where we live.

The diverse nature of the nation’s cyclists, in this scheme of things, is a positive: it makes us much harder to divide and rule, much harder to buy-off and neutralise. It should make us more of a threat.

In a nutshell – if your councillor or your MP isn’t actually achieving something for you as a cyclist, then vote against them. It doesn’t matter their party or your past allegiances; it doesn’t matter what they’ve said or promised. Judge them purely on what they have actually done for you, as a cyclist.

A lot of seats – particularly local – can change on a few votes. The more cyclists there are, voting for their interests, as opposed to along party lines, the fewer safe seats, even at a national level, there would be. ****

Yes, doubtless there are some exceptions to the career politicians out only for their own interests. Let them prove it though – not by talk but by action. The same is true of local councils: if you have a good one, demonstrably working for cyclists, vote to keep it in power. Nonsensical cycle lanes and other tokenism doesn’t count.

Otherwise, be as clear-eyed and cynical as I’m suggesting. You can be sure that, away from lip-service to the contrary, most of our politicians are far more cynical in their decision to not stand-up for cyclists.

Perhaps cyclists should organize in local groups if appropriate; perhaps the role of each town’s cycle club, cycle action group etc should primarily be to make it very clear to everyone what the politicians of their area are actually doing for the good of cycling. Again, this should be a wholly apolitical appraisal – based solely on demonstrable action or inaction.

And if anyone challenges you for being too cynical, or tries to rally you to a party’s colours, take that as a hint that you’re getting somewhere, that you’re rattling them, that you’re actually troubling the establishment, because the establishment is the whole lot of them – all the major parties, together.

* The Road Justice campaign site lists some injustices – but by no means all.
** Didcot cyclist-killer’s sentence
*** On the need to get away from being ‘cyclists’.
**** On how cycling doesn’t align with political divisions, and the need to reject the old party system.

Didcot in the distance

Didcot, dominating the skyline – and my thinking today


Potholes- filled badly and needing re-doing

Please, just do the job properly

A tedious, never-ending winter. A tedious strong and cold wind from the east. Today’s was a short, tedious ride on a fixed wheel – short because it was too cold to be anything else and remain even vaguely pleasurable.

The tedious predictability of sleep-wrecking jets overhead well before dawn – when the prevailing wind, a westerly, is in charge they’re not audible around here. You could, perhaps should, get very angry about the insult to all the people beneath flight paths that allowing flights at this time – from any direction – represents. That there are people willing to allow these flights, whatever the cost in human happiness and health, is as tediously true as anything else about human nature.

The tedium of pot-holes appearing time and time and time again where they’ve previously been ‘mended’. Whatever happened to doing a job once, and doing it properly. Councils: don’t plead ‘cuts’ and and claim to be hard-up when you’re visibly, crassly, painfully obviously wasting thousands upon thousands of pounds ‘mending’ roads to such a dismal quality standard that you’re just throwing good money after bad, time and time and time again.

The tedium of repetitious problems. And, stupidly enough, the tedium of finding so much about day-to-day life tedious. I can only look upon my response to it all with contempt.

Fools, or Civilized?

I know people who –

  • have spent all their life savings on trying to get decent medical treatment because the NHS is failing them – through lack of funding – and who still haven’t been treated properly;
  • are working well beyond their retirement age, despite having heart problems, because their savings have effectively been pillaged by the banking sector’s failures;
  • are unemployed despite being qualified and keen to work, who can’t find even a sniff of a job offer wherever they set their sights, because the sector they’ve worked in all their lives has been wrecked by the banking system’s crash;
  • can’t move house, to down-size, although they badly need to so they can keep their financial head above water, because the housing market is stagnant through the financial sector’s greed of the last however many years; who need to down-size in the first place because of this banking-created recession;
  • are working three different part time jobs to try and make ends meet, with all the inevitable consequences for their family;
  • are working ludicrous hours for no extra pay, just to keep their job.

And so on.

Today the headlines are dominated by the manipulation of banking lending rates by Barclays and others. Banks were once, supposedly, pillars of society, models of probity. Barclays has been fined £290m. That money goes to the Financial Services Authority. It will be used to cut the fees that banks and similar pay to the FSA.  That is to say, the fine is totally and utterly meaningless. It will do nothing to redress the harm caused.

Today, I was riding around the area between Reading and Windsor. There are any number of properties to be seen as you ride, owned by the very rich, doubtless many of them working in the financial sector. There were are fair few cars around as driven by people of that ilk too – Bentleys and so on – making their way to the regatta in Henley.

What I can’t decide is whether we, the  more-or-less lumpen mass, are fools for not lynching these people or whether we’re civilized for not doing so.

There have been any number of ‘raps on knuckles’ to financiers, bankers and all that ‘class’ of people and – obviously, as evidenced by this latest scandal – no lessons have been learned.

With some irony, it is always the ‘right wing’, to which the rich inevitably gravitate, who will call for severe punishments for crimes and will talk of ‘setting an example’ with sentencing. Perhaps we need to send a stronger message to these bankers and the like. Perhaps hanging them from lamp posts in public would work. Just ‘making an example’ of a few of them might prompt a return to honesty on the part of the rest.

How, against what criteria, do you judge when being civilized and non-violent might cease to be an appropriate stance? I don’t know. My natural instinct is to never advocate violence in any form. Every conflict always ends with talking, one way or another. I’m all in favour of skipping the conflict and cutting straight to the talking. But perhaps I’m wrong and perhaps the bankers and that type are correct in their instincts. Perhaps it would be more civilized – for the greater good of society – if we did start hanging a few of them, as examples.

Who do you ask what’s the right thing to do? Bankers? Doubtless it’ll be bankers who’ll be called in to look at the mess they’ve made, find it’s the fault of ‘a few rogue’ staff or whatever, rap a few more knuckles and let the truly guilty off the hook, again.

Is that too cynical? The horrible, corrosive truth is that it’s probably not. We should all be worried about what else is being corroded.

Commercial poppies being grown near Henley

Commercially grown poppies, here near Henley

Knowledge And Corruption

Photo: English Bluebells

English Bluebells, not to be confused with Spanish invaders

Yet another fairly windy, fairly showery day, and another off-road run with Charli. On one stretch we were on a track skirting the edge of a Bluebell wood; the contrast between the gentle scent of Bluebells and the thicker, slightly sickly smell of the Rapeseed fields of the other day makes you wish there was a commercial need to grow the former.

Coming in to Caversham along Kidmore End Road I noticed Thames Water had fixed the second leak there. For a good many weeks there was bubbling spring of a leak at the bottom of the hill; they fixed that but shortly after there was a strong steam of a leak further up, which was allowed to flow freely for some weeks too. Both have now been sorted out.

Charli said something critical about the time it takes them to fix problems and it’s tempting to agree. We know about their profits and their bonuses and that they can cream off so much, tell us all to save water and meanwhile waste so much of it seems simply, unavoidably, unarguably wrong.

What it also might be, though, is evidence of how much more we know these days. It would be easy to think that’s a good thing. We know about bonuses; we know about MPs fiddling their expenses; about lobbyists, back-handers, official lies and economies of truth. We know about greed and we have measures for the still-widening wealth gap. We know how little tax the rich pay and we know how many ministers go on to be well-rewarded directors on companies they ‘helped’ while they were in power.

And we forget all the positives.

Perhaps we know too much. Perhaps it’s made us too cynical, too judgemental; too willing to look for and to believe in the bad in everything.

The Sum Of Its Parts

Back in Berkshire and the first ride after walking a lot more than I normally do is hard work. It always turns out like this – muscles get used to certain activities.

Doing another round-Reading trip, I can’t help but notice far more fly-tipping than I’ve seen in Cornwall, and the roads around here are by-and-large in a far worse state too. It is easy to get very angry about it but that’s rarely a constructive outcome in and of itself – the anger has to be turned to something positive – an action. Just getting angry and ranting about an issue to some unfortunate friend, or just having a moan about something with your mates, is too easy and completely pointless.

A small step would be to report more problems to the people – local government – who are charged with fixing them. There are free tools to do so online. There’s no excuse not to.

The easy, perhaps cynical, perception to have is that Councils are inherently incompetent and they may well be, but on the other hand they can’t fix a problem if they don’t know it’s there. It’s only reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt and put them in the picture so they can act. If they do, fine and all credit to them. If time proves they don’t fix problems they’ve been told about then there’s a bigger can of worms that’s going to have to be tipped out and investigated.

For some reason, way the line we seem to have acquired the attitude that society is something ‘out there’ that other people are responsible for. That is manifestly not the case. It is the sum of its parts, and we all constitute a part of it. You could argue that it would suit some for people to not participate, to not get involved. That’s easy enough to imagine. Like all conspiracies, it tends to presume an awful lot of power and intelligence on the part of the conspirators … but of late more evidence seems to come up suggesting active malevolence on the part of ‘big powers’ (governments, churches, corporations etc) than anything to the contrary.

Worse Than Cheap Cynicism

Bluebells making an appearance

Making an appearance

Back on the road for a 30 mile loop, taking in Woodcote, Goring and Upper Basildon. Reasonably lumpy by my standards and it felt like hard work today. The change in the weather they’d promised has arrived – it was much colder and there was a strong north-westerly blowing; strong enough to have me peddling downhill to hit a speed in the mid-20s when on a better day I can freewheel down it and top 30 without any trouble. Dispiriting.

Perhaps they’ve been coming through for a little while but today was the first day that I noticed bluebells in the woodlands and hedgerows. Perhaps it’s because of the way they seem to appear from nowhere, last for just a brief spell and then effectively disappear again that bluebells have something special about them. Perhaps it’s just me.

Today saw the launch of ‘Action for Happiness’, an attempt to get people to focus on the activities that are pretty well proven to promote happiness. I can see nothing wrong with that. I found the negativity on the part of the public commentators – the journalists, the comedians, the people writing in to comment on the newspaper forums and so on – interesting.

If you compare all the negative comments with the stated aims of and reasoning behind ‘Action for Happiness’ – and it’s all there on the website – then perhaps the biggest lesson to draw from the response isn’t the obvious one – that cynicism is predictable, easy and cheap. No, I suspect the biggest lesson is how poor the quality of the intellect of the people with a public voice seems to be. None of the criticisms I heard stood up against the aims and reasoning behind the scheme. Full stop. The critics were, simply, wrong and they had no excuse to be wrong.

And, given how sought-after happiness is and how we all only have one life to live in which to seek it, surely being wrong about such an important thing, when you have every opportunity not to be, and when you’re in the public eye and with a public voice, is cruel and irresponsible.