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"Biking Borough"of Brent
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Updated: 15 min 19 sec ago

Letter to my MP Barry Gardiner on the EU and Parliament

29 June, 2016 - 17:07
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 ‘remain’ 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
Categories: Views

The Brexiters' dream is a post-Imperal delusion

21 June, 2016 - 21:35
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 political 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 it ins 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.
Categories: Views

A crossroads

4 May, 2016 - 19:41
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 CS3 to Beckton), and the North-South superhighway, which has been designated CS6. 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 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 has 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 a scheduled rebuild of the Blackfriars junction that made 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 the 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 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 FridayAt 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 was mainstream transport policy, future growth is anticipated and to be catered for, and the infrastructure developers started under Johnson must be continued. This, at least, was thew general rhetoric of thew 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 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. 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, even suggesting 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'.

He tried to clarify and distance himself from these earlier comments in the hustings, claiming he had been misrepresented, and that he was only 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 repeatedly criticises the consultation process of 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 the scheme in his constituency, the Kingston mini-Holland, has been well-consultaed, has been popular, and he 'hasn't received a single letter of protest about it'. But he doesn't seem to have noticed that the other schemes are far more ambitious, particularly the Walthamstow one, which has achieved a far greater change in a short time.

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 CS11, 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 has 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 cyclist's 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 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 still prevent most who would benefit from cycling 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 shome of the od guard at Transport for London: we know that. There are people rthere who think they have now 'dobne' cycling, and with the opening of Boris's cycle tracks, they can get back to more seriousa business. The new mayor has to face them down and tell them, 'Sorry son, you've only just started on this'. We have to judge who of the main candidates is most likely to do this. Cycling commentator Bill Chidley attended the meeting on CS11 that Goldsmith organised, 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 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, Assembly Members Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson consistently asking pertinent questions of the Mayor, compiling relevant papers and reports, and actually getting out on the ground in all parts of London to finds out what cycling conditions were actually like: not just in Westminster and the City, but 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 in her cycling survey of London), and 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 CS11, but where safe space for cycling is desperately need. 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 Pigeon, Liberal Democrat AM 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 Pigeon as well, but the system means that the second preference vote must go to the candidate who can stop the worst candidate: Goldsmith. So my second preference vote will be for Sadiq Khan. I recommend all those who give their first preference to Berry or Pigeon 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 with creating a cycleable and walkable city, and their successors will carry on that work. The more of them that there are, 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 CS11 should go ahead as planned.

London is at a crossroads on its journey to become a people-friendly city. The opening of the Superhighway on election day will be apt and rather symbolic. If you have a votes in this election, please use them carefully to ensure the journey continues.


Categories: Views

Antisemitism in Labour

3 May, 2016 - 20:18
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.
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