If you’re a fan of the historic notion that progress doesn’t transfer as a straight, upward line however tends to be a bit extra wiggly, then there was an article about biking on this week’s Mail on Sunday that very a lot proved the purpose.
Anti-cyclist items within the Mail are usually not precisely unusual, however this one was notable as a result of its key argument was that cyclists ought to “pay highway tax”.
If this blogpost had been a movie, this could be the second to insert a sudden, soundtrack-halting needle scratch, with a narrator filling the sudden silence to say: “Sure, highway tax.”
You know the one. Abolished in 1937. Changed by automobile excise obligation (VED), which is, as has been defined numerous occasions, very a lot not a tax to pay for roads – the cash goes into the central pot, as do nearly all tax revenues.
VED can be based mostly on exhaust emissions, which means that even when cyclists had been accountable for it, bikes can be, as with dozens of electrical and hybrid vehicles, charged exactly £0 a 12 months.
The concept cyclists are freeloaders as a result of they don’t pay “highway tax” has been so completely debunked over so a few years that, today, it’s primarily the protect of nameless Twitter accounts.
And but it has returned. Much more notable was the writer of this Mail on Sunday opinion piece – Nigel Farage. And to search out Farage weighing in with regards to biking pursuits me.
In political phrases, we’re presently amid what may very well be known as model 3.0 Farage. Brexit is all however over, and his plan B of being a Donald Trump camp follower/media pundit took a big dent on the weekend.
However Farage is nothing if not adaptable, and is presently reinventing himself as one thing of an all-purpose, hard-right, populist tradition warrior, whether or not warning about an “invasion” of asylum seekers within the Channel or battling lockdown.
His article on biking is each at occasions brazenly ludicrous – he opines that the “overwhelming majority” of highway cyclists frequenting the Kent lanes the place he lives are additionally more than likely remainers – but additionally illustrative of the language adopted by rightwing populists, that includes dehumanising phrases corresponding to likening cyclists to “a wierd swarm of bugs”.
Farage has, presumably, held these golf membership bore opinions about cyclists for a few years. So why air them now? The clue comes later within the article, when he condemns authorities spending on methods to spice up strolling and biking amid lockdown, corresponding to momentary bike lanes and so-called low site visitors neighbourhoods (LTNs).
That is the important thing. Biking is within the information, and it implies that as soon as once more we should face a rash of unsavoury anti-cyclist opinion items, amongst which Farage’s is simply the most recent.
A fortnight in the past, a columnist within the Occasions used proposed modifications to the Freeway Code to higher defend susceptible highway customers to complain about cyclists “stamping their ft”, saying “the actual fact they’re pedalling the eco-friendly possibility has already gone to their heads”. That is one other conventional trope about these on two wheels – they’re smug, self-righteous or, as Farage put it, “pious”.
On the identical day, the Telegraph acquired in on the act, internet hosting a ridiculous Twitter “debate” that began with the argument: “Nation walks will be ruined by boastful cyclists anticipating walkers to know they’re arising behind at 40mph.”
A reminder: even in a short time trial, skilled cyclists competing within the Tour de France do effectively to handle 30mph. That is yet one more criticism about cyclists – they’re at all times too quick, besides once they’re too gradual and holding up motor site visitors. Schrödinger’s bicycle owner.
What ought to we make of this mini-resurgence in much-disproved myths about cyclists? My view is that it’s in no small half based mostly on a way of risk. Not risk from cyclists themselves – it stays terribly troublesome to significantly hurt one other individual whereas using a motorcycle.
The risk as a substitute is being felt by highly effective pursuits who concern their a long time of dominance is being threatened. The federal government’s response to coronavirus, by way of find out how to maintain folks transferring when capability on public transport is essentially restricted, has not really been that revolutionary. Sure, £250m in emergency spending is welcome however, in highway transport phrases, that’s lower than a fifth of a really costly roundabout.
My sense is that the speedy change to life introduced by coronavirus is making some individuals who habitually drive concern that the roads may very well be subsequent, and each the rhetoric and political stress are ramping up. Greater than a dozen Conservative MPs have signed a letter calling, in impact, for all new work on cycle lanes and LTNs to halt.
My fear is that this stress might quickly have an effect. Nigel Farage is nothing if not a politician who can sense which method the wind is blowing. So sure, let’s giggle at foolish notions of highway tax and 40mph weekend cyclists. However maintain a be careful for the larger image.