It’s time we ended this mendacious cycling hysteria

When bicycles first appeared in the 19th century, they revolutionised Britain’s country life. Suddenly farmers acquired an easy means of courting girls in other villages, thereby reducing inbreeding and improving the nation’s genetic stock.

Cycling quickly became essential transportation for some, entertainment for others, a competitive sport for others still. So far, so good. Now fast-forward to our own time – only to observe that cycling has become downright pernicious.

Rather than simply being good exercise and a cheap way to travel, it has claimed something to which it isn’t entitled: moral ascendancy. Cycling has taken a place next to wind farms, solar panels, public foreplay with trees and hoodies, not smoking, not driving after a pint, not using private medicine and other merit badges of PC modernity.

Overnight a Londoner riding a bike to work stopped being an irresponsible miser willing to risk his life to save a few pennies, or else a health freak prepared to die for stronger leg muscles, or perhaps an impatient chap outracing a bus in rush-hour traffic. He’s now a secular saint doing his bit for environmental and personal health.

Whenever their PC button is pushed, our brainwashed masses respond with a surfeit of enthusiasm and a shortfall of reason. For example, it never occurs to them that cycling has no environmental benefits over public transport – those trains and buses are going to run anyway, so what’s a few passengers more or less? Of course, if most people rode bikes, there would be fewer buses and trains, but even cycling fanatics don’t suggest that such a development is likely.

Now HMG is launching a cross-party enquiry into ways of making cycling safer. No doubt our politicians will bring to the task the same intellectual rigour and scrupulous honesty they display in most of their other endeavours. I don’t know who is spearheading the enquiry, but George Osborne, with his known commitment to cheaper travel, can do nicely.

One can already see which way the enquiry will go in the way statistics are being massaged in our ‘quality’ press. For example, the figure of 3,192 is being waved about like a red rag before a bull. That’s how many cyclists were killed or seriously injured last year.

Do you smell a rat? Here it is: suppose I told you that last year I drank 95 gallons of water, juice and whisky. Does this make me a pathetic drunk or practically a teetotaller? You can’t answer this question unless you know how much of the liquid I consumed was water and juice, and how much of it was whisky.

Let’s try to untangle this statistical knot. In the first 10 months of 2012, 101 cyclists were killed in Britain, about 10 a month. Assuming that roughly the same ratio existed last year, 3,072 of the 3,192 were injured and 120 killed. Suddenly the statistic can be seen in a different light, and that’s even before we defined a serious injury: a broken wrist is more serious than a broken finger, but less so than a broken spine.

Equally false is the figure of 9% more ‘seriously injured or killed’ than last year. Apart from the same lumping the two categories together, this statistic is grossly misleading because it doesn’t take into account the increase in the number of regular cyclists and total distances travelled. This is considerable. For example, between 2009 and now the former number increased by 150,000, making more accidents highly predictable.

The government has earmarked £30 million to make cycling safer – this on top of the uncountable millions spent already on suffocating city traffic with unnecessarily wide cycle lanes. The one on London’s Embankment, for example, is as wide as a car lane, though not even Boris Johnson’s breadth comes close to that of a Mini.

Instead of squandering more of our money, HMG should acknowledge an obvious fact: the streets of our major cities aren’t designed for cycling. London isn’t Amsterdam, where vehicular traffic crawls along the straight canals at a snail’s pace, cycle or no cycles. We have more drivers, more opportunity to drive at the speed limit and more lorries whose drivers are often unsighted. Cyclists will always be in great peril, and the staff of London’s St Thomas Hospital will always refer to them as ‘organ donors’.

The only way to reduce the number of cycling deaths is to reduce the number of cyclists. This can be easily done by practising fair play, something for which the British are so justly famous.

Cyclists using their bikes for anything other than a pleasant ride in the park or in the country must be tested, licensed and made to pay road tax. As it is, they contribute nothing to the upkeep of the roads, leaving drivers, so hated by our liberal establishment, to carry this burden.

Cyclists should also have their bicycles registered and insured. The insurance premiums alone would probably be prohibitive, what with cycling presenting a much higher actuarial risk than driving. Incidentally, it’s not just cyclists themselves who are at risk, but also drivers who often have to swerve to avoid adding another pair of kidneys to the St Thomas’s organ bank.

Also, cyclists must be made either to obey the same traffic rules drivers do or face fines and disqualification. How many times have you had to jump out of a cyclist’s way on a pedestrian crossing? How many of them have you seen running a red light or going hell for leather on a pavement? This must stop.

These measures would be as effective as they’re fair. The number of ‘deaths and serious injuries’ would go down pari passu with the diminishing number of cyclists on city streets. The Exchequer would be millions richer, rather than another £30 million poorer. Drivers would have a much easier life. And, as an important side benefit, fewer bureaucrats would need to be employed.

And the downside? Simple: our PC sensibilities will be so offended that nothing sensible will be done. God forbid people will be encouraged to use their minds rather than emotions – they just might vote for the best candidate on offer: Mr None of the Above

Clegg’s eagle eye, and a brain to match

Nick has delivered himself of a rant against those who wish to alter the UK’s relationship with the EU. Displaying the kind of perspicacity we like to see in our great leaders, he noticed that ‘many of the people who advocate repatriation are the same people who want us out of the EU altogether’.

Since ‘no repatriation of powers would ever be enough’ for that sorry lot, he said, ‘there is no hard border between repatriation and exit’. He’s absolutely right about that, and I for one applaud the X-ray acuity of Nick’s eyesight: he saw right through those nasty naysayers.

Now, according to Aristotle, cognition is founded upon a correct empirical observation. That’s why it was natural to expect that Nick would move on to build an intellectual edifice reaching the dizzying heights of wisdom. Regrettably, what followed makes one doubt not just Nick’s mental capacity but indeed his mental health.  

‘Heading for the exit would be the surest way to diminish our great country,’ he said. ‘To go down that route would be a catastrophic loss of sovereignty for the UK.’

Excuse me? One may agree or disagree on the possible consequences of leaving the EU, with neither position bringing one’s sanity into question. But surely, however misguided in every other way, such a departure would mean recovering, rather than losing, sovereignty?

My trusted Chambers defines sovereignty as ‘supreme and independent power’. If Nick accepts this definition, then he seems to believe that, by surrendering both her supremacy and independence to a foreign body, the UK gains sovereignty, while reclaiming them would spell ‘a catastrophic loss’ thereof. This is an interesting point – from the psychiatric point of view, that is.

Take off your jacket, Nick, loosen your tie and lie on this couch. No, I’m not suggesting you ever tell lies – I’m simply inviting you to assume a horizontal position. There, that’s better. Now explain what you mean, and please don’t get excited.

A departure from the EU would diminish our clout – in the EU? No, says Nick. That is, it will do that, but above all it’ll diminish our clout in Washington.

Now we know he’s not just disturbed but insane: fancy believing that we have any clout in Washington to begin with. But assuming that we do have a teensy-weensy bit, how would we lose it? Back in 1941 the US found it in her heart to side with Britain in her conflict with the EU precursor. If our being at loggerheads with a temporarily united Europe didn’t destroy our relationship with the USA then, why would a more benign separation do so now? Call out for the men in white coats.

As Nick is squeezed into a straightjacket and strapped onto a stretcher, he gets another shot in: ‘It is wishful thinking to suggest that we could give ourselves a free pass to undercut the single market, only to negotiate our way back into the laws that suit us.’

But Nick, no one has ever expressed any hostility to the single European market, not within my earshot. It’s the single European state that people have issues with, and surely even you must see that the two aren’t the same? It’s possible, you know, to trade with others without belonging to the same state.

As to the old chestnut of finding ourselves ‘on the sidelines’, unable ‘to negotiate our way back into the laws that suit us’, this provides further clinical proof of dementia. The whole point of leaving the EU is to disengage ourselves from its laws and to return to our own, thus regaining our sovereignty (see Chambers English Dictionary).

The EU would then become a foreign entity, on whose laws we’d have no influence, regardless of whether or not they ‘suit us’. Neither, and this is a simple logical inference, would its laws have any power over us.

Hence our economic ties with the EU would be similar not to those Yorkshire has with Surrey, but to those Britain has with China or the USA. We have no say in what laws they pass – and quite right too, for those laws have no jurisdiction over us. Yet we seem to be doing brisk trade with those nations – why, I bet even Nick’s tennis shoes are made in China. Why on earth can’t we have exactly the same relationship with Germany or France? Even if they restyle themselves as Germance or Francmany?

Nick then had a few unkind words to say about Labour’s about-face on the EU budget, and here one has to agree. For Labour to reposition itself as an opponent of feeding the EU’s spending habit is a bit like Dr Shipman championing responsible care for the elderly. (Parenthetically, according to today’s NHS the good doctor had all the right ideas – shame this pathway blazer is no longer around.)

This is after all the party that only due to internal bickering failed to drag us into the euro. To compensate, they dragged us into everything else, while surrendering much of our rebate and increasing our net contribution to the EU coffers. In fact, their line of attack against the Tories has always been the latter’s presumed euroscepticism. For exactly the same people (Ed Balls, ring your office) to insist on cutting, as opposed to merely freezing, the EU budget represents the acme of cynical opportunism, but then what else is new?

Aren’t you glad we are governed by people of such towering minds and robust moral fibre? So perhaps I was wrong: Nick et al aren’t really mad. They are simply people of limited intellect, unlimited powerlust and nonexistent morals. Call me a maximalist, but there has to be something wrong with a pond where this sort of substance rises to the top.



Obama has had a good hurricane

Storm Sandy just may have blown Obama back in the White House. His charitable impulses running riot at this stage in the campaign, the president visited an emergency shelter in submerged Atlantic City and said all the right things.

‘You guys are in my thoughts and prayers,’ stated Obama, without specifying the confessional provenance of said supplications. ‘We are going to be here for the long haul.’

What more would the newly homeless, or indeed the electorate at large, need? A little show of sympathy, and suddenly Obama looks presidential. Looking is of course more important than being in the virtual reality of all modern democracies, and in America especially.

Even New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie, who usually feels about Obama the way a lamppost feels about dogs, was effusive. He and the president had a ‘great working relationship’, presumably meaning they toured New Jersey together without trying to push one another out of the car. ‘I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for the people of our state,’ said Mr Christie, who harbours his own presidential ambitions.

Obama’s lead in the swing states of Ohio and Iowa instantly widened to five percent, which probably means his re-election is in the bag. Never mind the economy, feel the compassion.

It is of course the state of the economy that’s supposed to decide US elections, but in order to do so it must be communicated to the electorate truthfully. Most Americans can’t be bothered to peruse long-term trends, indices and indicators – they expect the media, especially the three major TV networks, to do it for them and tell them what’s what.

Now these organisations lean so far to the left it’s amazing they still haven’t toppled over. Compared to CBS, NBC and ABC, our own ghastly BBC is a paragon of objectivity and even-handedness. For example, at the time Ronald Reagan was winning by a landslide, about 98 percent of the networks’ staff voted Democratic, what with Communist Party USA not being an option on offer. So naturally Obama, the leftmost president in history, is their boy.

This is not to say they’re lying about the dire state of the US economy. They would if they could, but alas there are regulations against that sort of thing. Instead they deceive – by omission, spurious analysis and general tone of benevolence towards their ideological comrade.

It is, for example, instructive to compare how the networks are covering the economy now and how they did so at exactly the same point in 2004, when George ‘Yo Blair’ Bush was fighting his re-election campaign.

In September, 2004, the US economy wasn’t doing well, and the federal debt stood at $7.4 trillion, making one wonder exactly how Americans define fiscal conservatism. In this, old Dubya followed the path charted by his ‘conservative’ predecessor Reagan, under whom the debt had tripled. Still, at the end of Bush’s first term the economy boasted a growth rate of 3.3 percent, an unemployment rate of just 5.4 percent and petrol prices at a manageable $1.82.

Such indicators are a cause for commiseration but, compared to Obama’s dismal performance, they are grounds for jubilation. At exactly the same point in the current campaign, US unemployment stands at 8.1 percent, almost 3 percent higher than under Bush. Economic growth is at 1.3 percent and going down. Petrol costs $3.84 a gallon, almost $2 dollars higher. And the federal debt has more than doubled to $16 trillion.

Yet, while in 2004 the networks depicted the economy in apocalyptic terms, today they either hush up or downplay its plight. Then an NBC commentator was saying ‘I really think Bush has ruined the economy. We’ve lost so many jobs, and I haven’t seen him do anything to really fix it.’ More than 25 million Americans are looking for work now, but this is either ignored or described as a sort of natural disaster, on a par with Sandy.

Meanwhile ABC’s George Stephanopoulos let White House adviser David Plouffe get away with bragging that the administration had ‘cut over $3 trillion in spending’. Such a drastic cut would hardly explain a federal debt ballooning to $16 trillion unless we remember that Obama hasn’t really cut anything by $3 billion. He merely proposed such a cut in his budget, knowing full well that it would never in a million years get through either House, where not just all Republicans but even most Democrats oppose it. The cut, in other words, represents political cynicism, not fiscal prudence.

To be fair, these desperate whitewashing efforts are matched by our own leftwing press, which category now lamentably includes The Times. According to today’s issue, Obama ‘deserves a second term’, and his compassion tour of New Jersey ‘rose above politics’. Any unbiased observer would know that, on his economic and overall performance, all that Obama deserves is to be run out of town. And as to his cheap political stunt, it falls not so much into the ultra range above politics as into the infra range below it.

None of this is to suggest that Romney would make a better president. He could conceivably be the lesser evil, but an evil nevertheless. Yet one almost wishes he could pull off a miracle and get elected – if only to spite the rancid alphabet soup of American TV networks.