Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Old Vauxhall Diva

In the heyday of socialist government and post war Britain, working class people only ever voted labour.

It was something that came with their blue collars, dirty fingernails and their trusted cycles that took them to the pit, factory, or to build the road network for those who could afford to buy a car.

Towns with a strong maufactoring base were swamped with cyclists commuting to and from work.
Places where large cycle sheds reduced the need for sprawling car parks.
Cycling was the norm.......and a preference to walking.
These were the only choices for most.
It was a time of great leaders where most politicians from both sides of the house appeared honourable and their views were rarely tainted by personal prejudice.

Ever since Tony Blair threw away the mandate for representing the working class, the Labour Party have sadly struggled to reclaim some of their old values.

I say sadly because I believe any government needs the competition of a viable alternative and this current opposition party are as far out of touch with the people as the present government are.

It does not help when their MPs try to speak about things that they no nothing about.
Seemingly inflicted by some semi-dormant road rage virus, the honorable representative for Vauxhall had a bit of a diva moment and illustrated just how out of touch she is with her own parties roots.

Peter Walker from the Guardian reports:

Kate Hoey: the MP who thinks cyclists should be registered (and pay road tax)
The London MP, recently the target of cyclists' ire, wants to see more bikes on the roads but has some curious ideas about how this should happen
Kate Hoey MP
Kate Hoey MP. Photograph: Frank Baron/The Guardian

Within the motley collection of Twitter streams and blogs sometimes passed off as the cycling “community” there was a definite collective chortle recently: Kate Hoey, the independent-minded and opinionated Labour MP who once damned cyclists as endemic law-breakers and, oh yes, “Lycra louts”, had herself been punished for jumping a red light in her car.
The representative for Vauxhall, just across the Thames from parliament, was it seemed no better than those she would seek to lambast. I must confess to enjoying a slight chuckle myself.
Hoey's notoriety among some cyclists is mainly based on a 2003 comment she penned for the Mail on Sunday. Re-reading the piece, it does run through most of the cliches of the genre (it even begins: “I have nothing against cycling”) and is at times both a bit odd – the now infamous notion that cyclists cause cattle stampedes – and alarming, when she talks about sounding her horn at riders “holding up the traffic”, as if bikes are not themselves traffic and merit being frightened out of their skins.
The piece ends with the recommendation that cyclists who use the road “pay something for its upkeep”, not the sort of lack of knowledge you expect from an MP.
So in the light of Hoey's own brush with the law I decided to ask if she had amended her views over the following decade, or indeed had learned that road tax doesn't exist. It was a fascinating chat but the conclusion, it's fair to say, is mixed.
Hoey says she received a lot of abuse and/or gloating via email and Twitter in the wake of her £240 fine. She replied politely to the former and ignored the latter.
As for her views on cycling, Hoey says her Mail article came across as more extreme than she'd like, in retrospect, and supports Boris Johnson's plans to provide a network of segregated cycle lane
'I would love to see cycling separated, because I think it would help everybody. If it means more people cycling, great, especially if it makes it easier for me on the road. You're never going to get it everywhere, but it's going to have to happen because there's so many more people cycling'
Hoey is well-known for being one of Westminster's more free-thinking MPs, for example as an outspoken opponent of the hunting ban introduced by her own party. She's also engaging, open and thoughtful, and happy to be challenged. There's no reason why she should like cycling, but it's fair to say her wider views on those using bikes remain a bit sceptical, particularly given that she represents an area with one of the lowest levels of car ownership in the country.
Quite early in our conversation Hoey argued that cyclists should be subject to some sort of mandatory registration, with number plates.
'What I do genuinely think,and the cycling lobby argue for it too,is that everyone who rides a bicycle,particularly as a form of transport to work,should be registered,so their bike has a registration number.At the moment if someone does knock down an old lady and ride off no one can trace that person'
It's an idea intermittently suggested by some, but rejected by more or less every government anywhere. There's various aguments against it (I went through some of them here), not least because it would be expected to instantly slash the number of people who use bikes, with the attendant problems this brings. It’s also notable that a sizeable contingent of bikes carrying easy-to-read ID numbers already exist in London – the blue cycle hire machines – and there’s not been a rush of reports to the police.
Hoey also said she could not understand why young people on mopeds had to be registered when cyclists did not. The big difference, I’d argue, is that even small mopeds are much more potentially deadly. Me riding a 90kg moped at 30mph carries about eight times the kinetic energy than when I am doing 15mph on a10kg bike. That’s a big difference.
Her worry about cyclists is that misbehaviour among the two-wheeled isn’t properly challenged, either by other riders or by the law:
'I can see why cyclists feel they have to stand up against people. But I never see cyclists criticising themselves. Cyclists don't seem to see to do anything about'
This is a common argument and one which, in some ways, has merit (even if the cyclists I occasionally chase down and chastise for jumping lights might see things differently). But, as I pointed out to Hoey, there are two points to consider. First, there is a lot of law-breaking by car drivers, but much of it is less obviously visible and almost normalised – for example doing 37mph in a 30 zone, or nipping through lights a second or two after they change, as she did in her Mini. Second, while I’d call light-jumping by cyclists anti-social, even intimidating for pedestrians, unlike speeding in a car it’s very, very rarely lethal.
Hoey disagreed with this idea:
But that is a sort of cop out, isn' it? It's like me saying, I'm only driving this little old Mini, why can't just slip through a light as well if there's nothing coming?
I’d refer Hoey back to the handy kinetic energy calculator: her Mini doing 30mph now carries 40 times the force of my hypothetical bike.
While two of her parliamentary staff cycle to work, Hoey is adamant she is not going to give up her cherished Mini (an old-style one), although she did sound intrigued at the idea of an e-bike (“That sounds more useful for me”). She does stress, however, that she rode to and from school every day from the age of four to 11, admittedly in rural Northern Ireland.
But then we got to the end of the chat, and the section which struck me the most:
'I would love to see cycling separated, because I think it would help everybody. If it means more people cycling, great, especially if it makes it easier for me on the road. You're never going to get it everywhere, but it's going to have to happen because there's so many more people cycling.
But if we're going to do that don't you think they should have to pay something, as a road tax? Why should I pay a hundred and whatever pounds for my little Mini and they don't?
I pointed out, at length, the distinction between “road tax” (which doesn’t exist) and VED (which does), and I hope she got it.
She did later email a partial clarification about her views:
'By the way I do know that VED is based on size etc of car but the  is that surely everyone using the road should be licenced and insured'
I'll happily accept that's the case, though it doesn't entirely tie in with the earlier quote. Either way, I don’t think Hoey has any genuine malice towards cyclists, and in many ways she means well. But she has, to my mind, some curious notions.
It seems pretty anomalous for any MP, let alone one representing so many cycling constituents, to say cyclists should "have to pay something" to use the roads. If there’s something good which could come from her brush with the motoring law, perhaps it’s that she realises cyclists have an equal right to be out there, whether "holding up" her Mini or whizzing past it (if not at red lights). She could do worse than start by giving this page a good read.

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