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Cycling Scandal EPILOGUE continued – Save Cyclists’ Lives on narrow urban streets – Protest Suppressed!
Bad policies continue when you suppress complaints. They are an early warning system that something is badly wrong.
And your rights are not “lollypops”, equal and absolute, they are “liquorice all sorts” diverse and relative, sometimes in conflict with each other, like people.
Here a protest about new urban cycle lanes for non-existent cyclists or where they inhale toxic fumes, has been suppressed. The Local Government Ombudsman dismissed my complaint without good reason, Bindmans LLP prevented me seeking judicial review with bad reason, and the Legal Ombudsman dismissed my complaint against Bindmans LLP with no proper reason.
The dogs didn’t bark. Whose backs were they watching?
When will people start saving cyclists’ lives, not endangering more and more of them? The policy to double the number of cyclists by 2020 and, at the same time, hope to reduce congestion is mad, idiotic lunacy. Think about the fracture clinics and the mortuaries in the NHS and cyclists’s families.
Newcastle City Council appears to have aborted its plans for cycle lanes on Gosforth High Street – I claim a little victory here, but it is still constructing them in Heaton. In London, Camden is constructing a super highway in NW3 into residential London suburbia. The insane policy goes on promoting urban cycling amid toxic carcinogenic fumes with accidents every day, driven by the Department of Transport along with the money thrown away to pay for it.
This post and the last flag up the difficulty of challenging this.
First where the problem lies.
I am sorry I have to engage in the blame game. It is unavoidable. Criticism touches the surface. Blame gets right to the root of the problem. There is a huge difference between the two.
There are two sets of really guilty people. There are those who should help to stop a bad policy continuing. Instead they kill off an early warning system showing clearly that something is very badly wrong. There are others who should have stopped a bad policy starting in the first place, just not doing their job properly. I shall identify both.
I have criticised Kristianne James and Samantha Argyle who work for the Legal Ombudsman for investigating and dismissing my complaint over 10 days at Christmas last year. I have criticised Kim Burns who works for the Local Government Ombudsman for not seeing what was right under her nose, the “overarching aim” of the Newcastle Local Authority to get one driver in five to switch to a car for all local journeys, yet saying that there was no evidence that cycling numbers were the motivation for their policy. I repeatedly criticised her for not coming to Newcastle to check out the facts. There was no way she was going to do that.
I criticise them. I do not blame them. There is a difference. They, and others like them, are apparatchiks. They do what they are trained to do, but no more. Trained to think – yes – how best to do their jobs. Politely always. They earn a living. Pay the rent. Pay off a student loan, perhaps. Keep a family, maybe. They would not be out of work in any totalitarian regime. One of the lessons of the Holocaust – how many people it needed to make it happen.
I criticise them, certainly. I do not blame them.
I blame the ones in charge of them. The ones who didn’t want to know. Didn’t want to sign off their decisions. Didn’t acknowledge any personal responsibility to do so. Were not required to do so!!! The Legal Ombudsman and her CEO, the Local Government Ombudsman, and her executive officer. Beyond that, those who set up the Ombudsman service ostensibly to serve the public, in reality to serve the State, and call it “Ombudsman”. A charade. And, I blame the Department of Transport.
My experience has taught me that good top and middle management make for success, bad top and middle management are the agents of failure. Here you have absolutely no hope arguing the toss with minor officialdom, doing the job its paid to do, and wanting to keep it. Worse still, if the checks and balances that should keep our democracy healthy have been disconnected, public accountability doesn’t exist.
If you get a tough, indigestible, inedible steak full of gristle, don’t take it out on the waiter, look to the chef in the kitchen.
So, with Sustrans, the National Cycling Charity and cycling lobby. I criticise them for not sticking to their Zero vision for cyclists and allowing their enthusiasm for cycling to run away with itself. I blame the Department of Transport for not checking them out, putting them in charge of road improvements throughout the UK and funding them. Well over £100m directly and indirectly paid to them. I blame Nick Clegg and the Lib Democrats for making the doubling of cyclists on UK roads by 2020 their contribution to the Coalition Government. I blame the Green Lobby too. Here, all of them wet behind the ears.
With Bindmans LLP my criticism and blame overlap. It is their choice not mine. I criticise them for saying that a 100+ page dossier that I am sure my former pupil master in Manchester CN Glidewell would have relished arguing against the Local Government Ombudsman, was “unarguable”. I am appalled that lawyers should say here that “it was bound to fail.” The firm has a complaints policy that is an abdication of responsibility; not answering my 33 criticisms of their Advice (framed in Tort not Contract) although the Legal Ombudsman ruled that they should do so. Their colleagues allowed four lawyers to be a judge in their own cause with the person in charge of complaints explicitly saying that she doesn’t have the knowhow. So, I must blame them as well as criticise them, individually and collectively.
I have struggled to understand why a firm of lawyers noted for asserting human rights should go to such extraordinary lengths to avoid writing a pre-action protocol letter initiating judicial review proceedings; this would have been much simpler than trying to justify not being able to do what they had been paid to do, my human rights here extinguished in the process. This is particularly sad for me given that Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC for 60 years was a close friend of mine and, prior to his retirement, earned them such a fine reputation.
There are some who believe that everything that is done in the public sector is good, wholesome and in the public service, whereas everything done in the private sector is inherently corrupted by private greed and self-interest. They never acknowledge that whilst, at times, the public sector does serve the public, it too can be corrupt for private greed and self-interest, with tunnel vision and myopia.
And, they can’t acknowledge that whilst some in the private sector are guilty as charged, very often others are good, wholesome, and serve the public; they pay for the private sector with the profit legitimately earned; profit that rewards risk, encourages ambition, generates reinvestment and future jobs and pays for company pensions as well as dividends. It plays to a country’s strengths to make it strong. It doesn’t use the dumbing down French word Egalité as its mantra. The British sense of fair play is much to be preferred, and all the way to go these days to achieve it. The good side of Capitalism.
Maybe the lawyers in Bindmans didn’t want to destroy the misconception that the public sector is always for the public good, couldn’t bring themselves, by their own hand, to do so, by writing in my name the pre-action protocol letter. Or, maybe the explanation is simpler than that. I’ll watch your back, you watch mine. And preserve the fiction that we are all equal under the law. HO HO.
Over to you to work it out. Ask them.
I have been here before. Last time it was the Department for Education and the educational establishment with its ideological commitment to another insane policy, force feeding children with a multiplicity of special needs into one-size-fits-all comps to homogenise them. There too I sounded my trumpet and the Walls of Jericho stand to this day. There, too, I had a small success. Barbara Priestman School in Sunderland remained open and still is. The parents’ campaign, that I had assisted as chair of governors, won the day.
I continued the wider battle with my play, Death of a Nightingale staged in the New End Theatre in London. Then, amongst others, I criticised Jonathan Lovett, the editor of the Public Service Union’s Magazine, blackballing my play in his review of it in the magazine Stage trying, like Bindmans LLP, to administer final rites to my writing. . Again I criticise him, but I blame those who hired him to suppress my dissent from the policy of Inclusion. Even Mary Warnock, the author of the 1978 Warnock report, now acknowledges it was a disaster for many children with special educational needs.
I finger the people at the top so you can see clearly where the problem lies and who you must deal with.
Now I’ll tell you what I think the problem is, and it goes well beyond cycle lanes in Newcastle, London NW3 and elsewhere.
There is a word missing from the vocabulary of the West. It is the basis of civic morality. The word is RESPONSIBILITY or, more fully, SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY. Its absence is visible right through my story. It is compounded by those, especially human rights lawyers, who assert Rights as though they were lollypops of equal size and absolute, whereas they are liquorice all-sorts, diverse, relative, and sometimes in conflict with each other, like people. You’ll never hear them say that responsibility should be twinned with rights. Their own behaviour is a denial of the word.
In an earlier post, I referred to the words of Dr Malik, former President of the UN General Assembly:
“The West is too soft, too self-satisfied, too blind, too paralysed and anaesthetized morally, to act with vigour at the critical points in life and the world. A person or a culture, or a civilization cannot rise above itself in its inmost principles. In the Western world, the principle is higher and higher standard of living, more and more comfortable existence, nothing great, nothing historically profound. Nothing.” The absence of social responsibility is the void.
Lawyers, especially human rights lawyers, love to assert human rights – when they are in Parliament they help to create them. It pays them well to do so. I repeat, when did you ever hear them talk of responsibility?
What I am writing about has a long reach. It extends to our NHS.Always the right to care at the point of need. Never the responsibility before that point of need not to get drunk on a Friday night, not to overeat, become obese and diabetic, not to ride a bicycle without a helmet or on the pavement. Always the demand for more money for the NHS. Never any suggestion of trying to limit the demand and the cost to the State by getting people to share responsibility for their health with the State. I explain this more fully elsewhere.
Returning to cycling, there is no requirement that the cyclists themselves accept responsibility for their own health and safety. Instead hire them more and more bicycles, so that more and more can ride in narrow, twisty, busy, congested town and city streets without helmets inhaling toxic fumes. There’s always our NHS with its fracture clinics and its mortuaries.
I have come a long way from where I started, a letter to Newcastle complaining of cycle lanes for non-existent cyclists on the Gosforth High Street.
Now, finally, why it is so difficult to put a stop to the idiocy.
I will close with an extract from some satirical writing – Yes Minister stuff – that I was provoked to write some time ago when criticising the officials in Sunderland who I had to deal with as chair of governors of a special school under threat of closure, very aware that the blame resided elsewhere, in the Department for Education, in the left of centre educational establishment and OFSTED their heavy mob.
If a policy dies a death, there must be a post mortem and an Inquest. Politicians don’t like bad policies to die; civil servants hate it. In the land of the Ratchet U turns can’t happen! Bad policies must never die. You have to live with them for ever.
Let me introduce you to Sir Humphrey Plumbton. He is the highly distinguished, very eminent uncle of James Harrington, the mandarin in my play, Death of a Nightingale, and is therefore my invention, as is “The Pliability of Fact in the Decision-Making Process.” Vladimir Mulenchik was the original invention of David Hilton, a very good friend in my Oxford University days, and a Liberal. Accordingly, all the words are mine.
Very sadly David died in a road accident. David sustained the role of Vladimir Mulenchik for two hours in a Liberal Discussion Group in Manchester with everyone throughout believing that he was none other than a Hungarian émigré. Then Liberals are very trusting people. I am very happy to dedicate this post to his memory.
You can read the whole or just this extract:
Who is Sir Humphrey? He had a long and distinguished service with successive Conservative and Labour administrations in the Civil Service. In his retirement, he published many books and papers, notably “Capitalism Without a Conscience – A Worm’s Eye View”, “Life in the Silo – a Study of the British Civil Service”, and a training manual for politicians of all parties, entitled “Know your Place”.
Some time ago I came across a report that Sir Humphrey prepared, inspired by a paper entitled ‘The Pliability of Fact in the Decision-Making Process’ – by Vladimir Mulenchik, translated by David Hilton. I quote an extract from that report.
‘I would only add one further comment on the issue of Inclusion itself. In a paper entitled ‘The Pliability of Fact in the Decision-Making Process’ by Vladimir Mulenchik, a Hungarian émigré who entered this country in 1956 and published in the late 1950s – Mulenchik pointed out that there was no absolute fact or truth in politics. There was only an illusion of it. This was as important to the world of politics as Einstein’s work on the Theory of Relativity was in relation to Physics. It is quite facile to believe that politicians must resign every time they tell a lie. If there is no absolute truth, correspondingly there cannot be an absolute lie. That is not what it is all about. What it is about is that there is an illusion of truth, an illusion of competence and integrity. Ministers resign, Governments fall, Mikhail Gorbachev goes in disgrace when they shatter that illusion, when they call into question administrative competence and integrity. Sometimes, of course, it is very important that they should not resign because the resignation itself shatters that illusion. For the same reason, they should be urged not to apologise for mistakes made. This is as much to protect our backs as their faces.
Let me tell you quite precisely about the greatest illusion of all in politics. It is widely thought that politicians in central and local government are served by their officials. The reality is very different. Politicians act as lightening conductors for the bolts that should fly in the direction of inept civil servants, but only very rarely strike them. That is the way of it. The illusion is reverse image of the reality. Politicians serve their officials, not the other way round. They provide the first line of defence to attack. They take the blame. They provide the safety valve for the system. Then, ultimately, if the civil service gets it wrong, they lose their seats!
What is critical to that finely balanced relationship is the consistency of policy, the apparent competence of both officials and politicians and the incorruptibility of the system as a whole.
It is on the strength of that that politicians are re-elected, or not, as the case may be.
In other words, politicians come and politicians go, but we go on for ever or, at least, as long as we choose to. It is a very good system that has proved its worth over many years.
It may be subject to the criticism of inertia and insensitivity or, as the narrative alleges, myopia combined with tunnel vision, but it makes the British Civil Service the very best in the world and the envy of all democratic nations.
There is an irony here. I am told that Camden is determined to push ahead on cycle superhighways without proper consultation and ignoring the need for impact studies on the lives of local people. This is where many in the intelligentsia of the Left live, pursuing equality for cyclists at 20mph. They are hoist are with their own petard. Maybe they will now begin to understand what I have been writing about. Maybe they will grasp why so many people outside London are so disgruntled, why the Labour Party is in the mess that it is in, the dogma of Utopian Socialism having imploded in Eastern Europe. That is another story. Or, is it?
My writing on Special Educational Needs and Cycle Lanes are two small fragments of a very large canvas. Why have I written it? I ended the Prologue to my book Death of a Nightingale with Ispy with this little story:
Two seriously ill patients go to see a doctor. He examines the first. “Oh dear” he says, “I am most terribly sorry. I cannot do anything here. ” He then sees the second. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I must do something here.”
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