First a little story. It’s amazing how wrong, how stupid, how foolhardy, and how lucky you can be when you are young. Me!
The TV programme A very English Scandal about Jeremy Thorpe, the widely popular one-time Leader of the Liberal Party reminds me. It also illustrates a point I have been making. How the System will go to just about any length to protect its own, even enlist the help of a friendly judge. I’ve been flagging up their friendly solicitor. After two days’ deliberations the jury cooperated, maybe an act of Christian charity to bring in a not guilty verdict? Shame enough? Then a blind eye should be an exception, not the rule when people cock things up.
Fifty years ago, I was one of Jeremy’s admirers. I was not alone. Ted Wheeler, his agent, once told me that on election night in North Devon, such was the wild enthusiasm of his supporters, it would have taken only a small spark amongst them to set fire to the HQ of the local Tory Party.
There were some good guys as well. I recall Jo Grimond, Clement Davies, Prof. Gilbert Murray, Salvador de Madariaga, John Arlott, Lord Beveridge, Philip Fothergill, Robin Day, Mark Bonham Carter, Lady Vi, Ludovic Kennedy, but, especially in the context of this story, the late Richard Wainwright MP.
If Jeremy was everyone’s idol – I still recall his making the annual appeal for funds at a Liberal Assembly – “It be milking time, it be” in his best West Country brogue, Richard was my guru, as straight as a die, a Yorkshire man, one of the best.
He organised the Great London Campaign in Hampstead. We were helping Renee Soskin, a local Liberal well worth supporting. I was in charge of the loudspeaker van. I shall come to the point of this memory quickly. One morning the car battery was flat. The loudspeaker had been busy the day before. The van was at the top of a hill. I thought if I could get it going down the hill, I could jump in and get it started. I took off the brake. I did not manage to get in. It rolled down the hill with me chasing after it. Here came the huge piece of good fortune. It stopped before it hit anything. Yes, Hampstead is hilly.
And after a great day’s campaigning making me feel very good at the time, a later realisation, the whole thing a drop in a very large ocean. Another realisation later, the Achilles Heel of the Liberal Left, naivete.
A more recent memory, too. The New End Theatre, now a small synagogue, staged the rehearsed reading and, later, a month-long performance of my Play Death of a Nightingale. The theatre was situated near the top of Hampstead, in a narrow little street – one of many – just above and behind Hampstead underground.
There can few better killing zones for cyclists in London than Haverstock Hill, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead High Street, Fitzjohn’s Avenue and Heath Street. Makes Gosforth High Street, Newcastle look positively benign. In both cases many side streets lined with parked cars, orphaned without a garage, with the main roads bottled-necked in rush hour traffic.
Pedestrians at risk too. A cousin of mine ended up with one leg shorter than another because of a speeding young cyclist.
Yes, I was familiar with Swiss Cottage and Hampstead when I read that in July a start was to be made to the proposed cycle superhighway cutting into this part of London to introduce cycle lanes there to promote walking and cycling. A triumph of mind without matter or substance.
I read that Transport for London said its consultation on CS11 received 60 per cent support from more than 6,000 respondents. 60 per cent is impressive even if 7 per cent of them was only partial, but 6,000 respondents – ridiculous, 3,260 approving – derisory; out of how many who will be affected? Not even a drop in the Ocean.
I read “It is part of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to see 80pc of journeys in London being made by foot, bike or public transport by 2041.” The plan is clear. Operation Gridlock. Add to the congestion by squeezing cycle lanes into busy roads. Ban diesel cars. Don’t provide charging points for the new generation of electric cars now only months away from reality. Charge motorists instead. Never mind the risk of death and injury from urban cycling. And everyone can then live in Lalaland. Pity if you are over 40 and don’t fancy falling off a bike or puffing up Haverstock Hill with your weekly shop.
Is there a democratic mandate for this?
Has there been any serious, professional market research to see whether this is what Londoners want? Are they all just waiting for a cycle lane before they buy a bike? Simple question. Or is this just auto-phobic, cyclo-manic zealots thinking that everyone thinks as they do, or damn well should do? And, serves them right if they don’t. Electric cars? Perish the thought. Autonomous electric cars? Perish that thought too. Pity if you fancy putting your name down for a Nissan Leaf. Tomorrow is yesterday.
Read my last article as well as this one.
As I keep saying, planners should factor human fallibility into their plans, especially their own.
Transport for London has over £1bn cost overrun on Crossrail.
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