I wrote to Amnesty expressing concern about their association with Cage and got the following reply:-
“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member. Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”
We had engaged with Cage together with several other organisations on the specific issue of UK complicity in torture abroad, on which they had particular expertise. At the time that Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International, we commissioned an independent external review into our work with Cage and Moazzam Begg which concluded that it was reasonable for Amnesty to campaign with Cage and Moazzam Begg in his capacity as a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay. Gita’s view was that it was inappropriate for Amnesty International to share a platform with individuals and organisations whose religious or political views were inconsistent with the full range of rights and women’s rights in particular.
Amnesty International has never questioned the integrity of this view or the sincerity with which Gita held it. However, it is not uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others.
Based on an extensive review of comments made by Cage Prisoners (as it was then known) then available to the public, we concluded that limited cooperation with Cage on the narrow issue of accountability for UK complicity in torture abroad was appropriate, given their consistent and credible messaging on this issue. Comments made by Cage recently have clearly changed that assessment and have led to our decision to terminate such relations. But this does not alter the fact the decision in 2010 to continue this limited work was taken for good reasons and after extensive reflection.
Further to that, the refusal of a Cage spokesperson to condemn violence such as FGM and stoning – themselves examples of torture and degrading treatment that we are campaigning for an end to – is of huge concern to Amnesty and has made any future platform sharing with Cage impossible.”
Amnesty have now made a statement on their website.
“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member.
“Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”
Many have pointed out that CAGE hasn’t changed since 2010, and that Amnesty is being disingenuous in suddenly finding them an unfit partner because of unwelcome publicity. A comment below:-
The reply by Amnesty’s Kate Allen contains a contradiction in terms. While she is affirming that it isn’t uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others, nevertheless now Amnesty is severing ties with CAGE over their views on violence and torture including FGM and stoning. Which one of the two Amnesty holds true – that their partners’ views on ‘other issues’ such as violence does not matter or that do matter? If they do matter now, how can Amnesty explain those views didn’t matter back in 2010 and they considered it perfectly normal to share a platform with CAGE. They either have to admit a gross incompetence and issue an apology to Gita Sahgal (though this is going to be difficult because Gita Sahgal warned them about CAGE’s views) or admit they acted in bad faith and hoped nobody will notice – in this case too, they at least have to issue an apology to Gita Sahgal.
CEMB Forum said in the thread below this post:-
An improvement. However, Amnesty need to do the following:
(1) Put this out as a public statement. Explaining their errors in the past and why they have realised they shouldn’t associate with CAGE again, including a specific expression of moral disgust and distancing from them on these issues. [They have sort of done this – though their words for CAGE “completely unacceptable” and “of huge concern” do not equal “disgust”.]
(2) An acknowledgement of Meredith Tax’s central point in her book ‘The Double Bind’ – that they need to maintain an objective critical distance from Salafi Jihadi apologists / groomers and Islamist reactionaries. [They haven’t mentioned giving Islamist groups a body swerve.]
3) A full public apology to Gita Sahgal. She was right. They were wrong. She is vindicated completely. Amnesty acknowledges the central points she made in her critique of them. Now apologise. [I bet they never do that.]
Over at Liberal Conspiracy Sunny Hundal makes a C minus apology. If you have the energy you can look back at Pickled Politics archives to see the many posts jeering at Gita Sahgal and boosting Moazzam Begg.
5 years ago, when Amnesty UK’s work with Mozazzam Begg was questioned by former employee Gita Sahgal, I came to Amnesty’s defence (though I actually wrote the issue was more complicated than many pretended it was). Recent events show that Gita called it right and I called it wrong, as did Amnesty. I’m happy to admit that, and I regret some of the intemperate language I used.
At the time I was defending Amnesty (not Cage) against people (excluding Gita) who wanted to undermine the organisation for other reasons, i.e. its focus on Guantanamo Bay and Israeli war crimes. I continue to think Amnesty is a great organisation but it should have refused to work with Cage then. I made lots of calls which turned out to be right (unlike many of Amnesty’s critics) but in this case I was wrong. Gita Sahgal’s instincts have been vindicated.
That last sentence does induce some nausea. When you apologise for being badly wrong, don’t point out how often you were right compared to the less enlightened. Also, it wasn’t Gita’s instincts that were right, it was her knowledge and experience and principles – which should have weighed a good deal heavier in the scales than Begg’s glamour as a Guantanamo detainee. But there you are – half a loaf and all that.
We at Shiraz were of course firm in our principles.
Back in 2010 we ran a piece defending Gita Sahgal in her dispute with Amnesty International.
As you will all remember, Gita Sahgal had blown the whistle on Amnesty’s partnership with the jihadist supporting group Cageprisoners (now CAGE). She was suspended for going public and eventually sacked.
For further details of the Amnesty/Cage debacle read the always excellent Jacobin here.
Now of course CAGE (misleadingly dubbed a Human Rights group) came out in defence of Mohammad Emwazi, who among his other faults (beheading hostages and having the filmed results used as PR for ISIS) is, what you could call “complicit in torture”.
Which makes the last letter to the PM that CAGE was a joint signatory to with Amnesty about “complicity in torture” a little well, hypocritical to say the least.
Amnesty has been highly embarrassed by their partnership with CAGE and have been on Twitter and were on Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday saying that all they did was have CAGE as a joint signatory on nine letters. (Listen here at 1:09) 1:09
This is not true. Gita Sahgal stated that among other things CAGE had done research projects with Amnesty and here is one instance of this. Here Cageprisoners are one of the “six leading human rights groups” working with Amnesty to co-author a briefing paper.
Why did Amnesty pick up with CAGE? I have heard rumours that the SWP have done their usual entryism. Here’s a comment below Gita Saghal’s article in Open Democracy back in 2010.
Itsn’t it about time to break the silence and name the problem, which is, that AI today, unlike AI in the past, is full of people from the SWP, and is carrying out their line? Obviously people are afraid to say so in public for fear of being accused of red-baiting but they certainly say it in private. I don’t even live in London and I have been hearing this for years.
I was told this by someone else as well. In the Weekly Worker they mention Asad Rehman formerly of the SWP who used to be an events manager at Amnesty International
There are noticeable characteristics of the SWP – the old one of their entryism, whereby they come into organisations with credibility and clout and try to turn them to their own purposes. (I saw that happen at a listings magazine I worked for once which they wanted to turn into a propaganda sheet and they were busy in CND). And a relatively new one – of their sucking up to Islamism to the point of holding segregated meetings at the Brothers’ request.
So Amnesty’s debacle with CAGE, which has damaged their reputation and lost them subscribers may be layable at their door. Amnesty changed direction from being focussed on prisoners of conscience to a fuzzier all-causes organisation seeing nothing wrong, for instance, in “defensive jihad”.*
This is just speculation on my part – anyone got any harder information? Or was Amnesty’s partnering with CAGE simply part of a kind of radical chic which is now starting to look a bit 2010 as people learn more about Islamism and the various organisations which are jihadist fronts.
The Charity Commission has now cut CAGE’s funding. CAGE will no doubt continue in some other form. I doubt Amnesty will co-sign letters with it again – but will they actually come out with a statement saying that they have decided that a pack of jihadist sympathisers are not really a good human rights organisation; and perhaps they could say a few words of apology to Gita Saghal (highly unlikely – but if you’re an Amnesty member – and I am – do write to them and suggest they do so).
*Defensive jihad, in contrast with offensive jihad, is the defense of Muslim communities. Islamic tradition holds that when Muslims are attacked, then it becomes obligatory for all Muslims of that land to defend against the attack. Indeed, the Qur’an requires military defense of the besieged Islamic community.
In contemporary Jihadism, it is impossible to draw an objective distinction between offensive and defensive jihadism, as even unilataral attacks on the soil of non-Muslim states are justified as retaliatory for events conceived of as “attacks on Muslims” (e.g. 2009 Fort Hood shooting, Woolwich attack).
I found Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built for Cars a valuable reference book and a good read.
He’s now kickstarting the funding for a new book, Bike Boom.
Nice video which I can’t get to embed.
Use of bicycles in America and Britain fell off a cliff in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to the rapid rise in car ownership. Urban planners and politicians predicted that cycling would soon wither to nothing, and they did their level best to bring about this extinction by catering only for motorists. And then something strange happened – bicycling bounced back, first in America and then in Britain. Today’s global bicycling boom – even the one in the Netherlands – has its roots in the early 1970s.
And this is what I’d like to explore in Bike Boom, a book that will use history to shine a spotlight on the present, and demonstrate how bicycling in the future has the potential to grow even further, if the right measures are put in place by the politicians and planners of today and tomorrow. ..
Bike Boom will aim to dig down into historical sources to find out how the Netherlands built a world-class network of bicycle paths – and much of the rest of the world didn’t. I’d also like to interview the bicycle advocates and planners of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (and those of today, too) to hear their stories, and learn from their successes and their mistakes.
Ur-Sustrans built its first cycleway on the Bristol to Bath route from 1979 – 1986. I remember the Innocent Railway stretch Edinburgh when it was still covered with ballast and gave you punctures and the tunnel was blocked – that was the early eighties. It is now a black top path and the main North Cycle Network 1, and this was through my own cycling organisation, Spokes. In the UK the progress has been local and patchy and has taken much patient volunteer effort.
The Innocent Railway – National Cycle Network 1
Scottish commentator Chris Derin notes the rise of anti-Semitism, and the fact that in Scotland it’s not coming from Islamists or the traditional far-right, but from elements of the supposed “left”:
Unthinkably, anti-semitism is once again on the rise across Europe. Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that the continent’s Jews should move to Israel, following the attacks in Paris, Belgium and Copenhagen, has angered many of his co-religionists, but the fact he felt able to say it should give the rest of us pause.
A timely article published yesterday in Scotland on Sunday by the journalist Dani Garavelli showed concern about their safety is growing among Scotland’s Jews. Giffnock’s long-established community has seen security stepped up outside Jewish buildings, including police patrols at the synagogue and at Scotland’s only Jewish primary school. The children are no longer allowed to line up in the playground in the morning.
The number of anti-semitic attacks in Glasgow rose ten-fold last year, according to Garavelli. A woman selling Israeli cosmetics from a stall is said to have had a ‘burning’ substance thrown in her face, while a rabbi was taunted with shouts of ‘Sieg Heil’. A sheltered housing complex in East Renfrewshire was daubed with a swastika and the words ‘Jewish Cunts. Jews Out’.
It seems to be politically hip to adopt an anti-Israel stance. What used to be the preserve of the far-Right now sits more easily with the far-Left, which is currently undergoing a modish revival in Scotland. Criticism of Israel’s government, a perfectly reasonable thing to do, all too regularly shades into the dark prejudice of anti-semitism. There’s nothing cool or modern about this. Anti-semitism is the most ancient of hatreds, and it was only 70 years ago that Europe’s Jews were nearly destroyed in a mass extermination programme. Anti-semites: think of the company you’re keeping.
JD adds: here at Shiraz we’ve had cause to comment on the anti-semitism of the Scottish PSC before now: “A little bit anti-Jewish”.
An excellent article about the proto hipster Nathan Barley, who would answer the phone “Hullo you wanker”. Nathan Barley was John the Baptist to Russell Brand’s Messiah:-
Looking for an online guru with an open-ended nanofesto that boils down to “peace and fucking – believe!”? Sorry Russell Brand, Nathan beat The Trews to the punch by 10 years with the rambling video homilies on his website (back when websites were novel)trashbat.co.ck. Barley aficionados will surely see in Brand some echoes of the show’s Preacherman character, the burnt-out style writer Dan Ashcroft who is bullied by style mag Sugar Ape’s appalling editor Jonatton Yeah? into adopting a voice-of-a-generation role. Replace the cynical weariness with messianism and you have Russell to a tee. …
Nathan started life on the TVGoHome website….
TVGoHome was [Charlie] Brooker’s surreal and scatalogical late 90s collection of fake TV listings, including imaginary shows such as Inspector Bumhat, Daily Mail Island and the probably-best-not-explained Mick Hucknall’s Pink Pancakes.
….One regular listing concerned a young media man about town called Nathan Barley. It went under the pithy title of Cunt…
Chris Morris, the creator of The Day Today and Brasseye, had written listings in secret for TVGoHome. Around 2000 he suggested that they try to develop a show around the Nathan character and east London’s increasingly absurd club/art scene. “We talked about the show for years before we made it,” says Brooker. “Chris was adamant very early on that there should be a tiny acorn of likability to Nathan, something irrepressible. He does terrible things but he has an endearing sort of rabbity enthusiasm to him. In the fake listings he really was a cunt, whereas in the TV show he’s a twat – and there is a difference.
As there is.
Kingsley Amis liked these sorts of fine distinctions.
He says of a club bore: – “he was only an old fart, not an old shit as well.”
(The Folks Who Live on the Hill)
That’s a wide distinction. But when it comes to the following:-
A privilege granted to few
Is meeting a pratt on the scale
Of Nicholls: by common consent
A nitwit not fit to shift shit,
Whether more of a bastard or cunt,
Views varied, one has to admit.
(Kingsley Amis The Reunion)
The distinction is narrower. But here’s a working definition – a bastard will cheat on his partner, a cunt will get back at her with revenge porn.
Re Charlie Hebdo:-
“The point of satire is to attack the powerful, to expose their hypocrisy and absurdity, and of course to be funny. If satire is directed downwards it is not satire, it’s bullying.
Two elementary objections:-
1. Mohammad and Islam are very powerful to a gruesome degree in some places;
2. It’s not the point of satire to attack the powerful. The point of satire is to ridicule absurdities. It’s not just the powerful that are absurd.
Tim Sanders belongs to some left wing groupuscule. I suppose he’d admit that left wing groupuscules are (sadly) not powerful. They had the piss gloriously taken out of them in The Life of Brian with the The People’s Front of Judaea vs the Judaean People’s Front.
Here’s a video clip to refute his argument:-
1. It’s funny – one of the funniest scenes in one of the funniest films
2. It attacks the powerless – who happen to be absurd in this instance. In fact their powerlessness is part of their being ridiculous.
However word seems to be getting about that satire MUST attack the powerful otherwise it isn’t really satire – punching up against punching down. Will Self said something incoherent about this on Channel 4 (both he and Martin Rowson are purgative – see them fisked here.)
“You always have to ask with something that purports to be satire, who is it attacking? Are they people in a position of power? And if it’s attacking people in a position of power, is it giving comfort to people who are powerless and who are assaulted in some sense by those powerful people? This is not the dynamic with Islamist terrorists, they are not in power in our society, and it is not comforting the people who look at these cartoons whether in Charlie Hebdo or in newspapers here, they don’t feel better about themselves or about life to see Islamist terrorists mocked or the beliefs of Muslims in general mocked – why does it make anybody feel better?”
Islamists do have power within our society. In that interview the cartoonist Rowson said he wouldn’t draw Mohammad in case staff at newspapers got killed, i.e. he obeys the assassins’ veto. Pissing off Islamists and their followers seems as morally imperative as pissing off David Cameron and his – except that David Cameron won’t execute you out of hand.
When Rageboy was in one of his fits about a crappy film, – those fits which would be funny if they weren’t sinister, it made me feel better to knock this cartoon up. Caption:- Film Critics Revolt
Self teaches contemporary thought at Brunel University but his notions of satire seemed to have stopped at Spitting Image. One thing to notice about modern culture, as I thought last night when watching Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipes, which twists the tail of the ordinary glazed-eyed citizen as well as world leaders, is how it is flooded with satire, with piss-taking, with smart-arsery, with Reddit, and Cracked and Weird Al Y?Yankovic . It’s the modern idiom. Selfie, with his natural tone of sneering contempt and his ultra-punnable surname, is evidently the fish who doesn’t know it’s water he’s swimming in as he hasn’t noticed that early twenty first culture in the anglophone world is satirical to the point of misanthropy, which makes our politicians despised to an unhealthy degree, because, they, poor buggers, have to talk in the language of hope and belief, and it’s as if they’re speaking Victorian Uplift, while we their voters speak Modern Cynic.
However Self may have been doing a piece of satire of his own – perhaps a subtle reference to the English academic in David Lodge’s Changing Places (a satire against the not very powerful) who boasts he’s never read Hamlet.
Satire can be cruel, or it can be gentle. Goodness Gracious Me was rather gentle about its crass whites, its social climbers the Coopers and the bloke who says Indian about every invention (who should be resurrected as a Muslim saying, “It’s in the Qu’ran” about genetics, embryology and thermodynamics.)
Jonathan Swift punched up at politicians in Lilliput and Brobdignag, and scientists in Laputa, but come the fourth voyage he was punching downwards at grovelling humankind. The Simpsons punches down at America’s blue-collar class. Shameless punched down at the British underclass. The Royle Family punched down at the British working class and Rab C Nesbit punched down at the Scottish schemey.
Mo Dawah one of the best things on Twitter aims his darts at the target of the “community leader” – who has a helluva lot more power than their victims though less power than the Government.
We must not be afraid to address the problems within our community, by introspecting fearlessly on how it is everyone else’s fault.
We have to fight the hegemony of hetero-normative racist patriarchy that tries to blame the perpetrators who are victims too #Rotherham (Now that one is savage.)
Sick of double standards of liberal fascists imposing freedom to say what I want on me, whilst denying my right to impose censorship on them
Well I’d think you were a shit of course, but I already thought that about you.
However, let’s treat this seriously for a second or two and spell out the difference between making fun of a religion with its sacred objects and a staggering, culture-breaking historic event that still has living witnesses. Here are a couple of cartoons featuring women – one semi-mythical (though admirable on the whole).
The Virgin Mary/Our Lady
A rape victim
I’m sure you Holocaust cartooners can find something absurd and ridiculous about her plight and will knock up a nifty speech bubble. As for me I never want to google “rape victim” images again.
Actually if I was Charlie Hebdo I’d do a caption like “Her skirt must have been too short” which, to explain to those who are slow on the uptake, would be a satire against rape-victim-blamers. But I haven’t got the heart or stomach.
My satire is constrained by my own boundaries and a shared culture is one where we judge what is outside of enough. We can judge satire as good or bad in all sorts of ways, but not that it only should attack the powerful and that cartoonists laying into a religion should think again, except for the prudential reasons that now are forcing us to mind our manners or else.
In December 2013, former Charlie Hebdo editor Olivier Cyran, who had left the magazine in 2001, published an article, “Charlie Hebdo, Not Racist? If You Say So,” on his website Article11.
Charlie Hebdo’s religion editor, Zineb el-Rhazoui, replied in an essay published the same month. I’ve translated her essay below. When the attack on the paper’s offices occurred, el-Rhazoui was traveling in Morocco. (From Too Hot for Jacobin)
Olivier, you start from the premise that the Muslims of Azerbaijan, of Bosnia, of Malaysia, Egypt or Burkina Faso, represent a single whole that can be designated as a “race.” Well, it so happens that that’s the one I belong to. The fact that I’m an atheist, and proud of it? It makes no difference, since you don’t ask us what we think; you talk about racism, and therefore race. I won’t keep beating around the bush, since I don’t doubt for a second that, like me, you perfectly understand the distinction between a religion and a race. If you make this lamentable conflation, it’s because you engage in a sociological fallacy whose origins lie in the demography of France: our Muslims are most often those we call “Arabs.” I’m sort of starting to understand why you speak of racism. But let’s try to be precise: we’re not talking about the Arabs of Lebanon, who are rarely encountered in the French projects, nor the persecuted Arab Ahwazi minority of Iran, whom nobody in France talks about, and certainly not the Arabs of Qatar who keep Louis Vuitton in business. No, you’re talking about the “Arabs” of North Africa — and here again, it so happens that that is the “race” from which I spring. Moreover, for your information, those “Arabs” aren’t always Arabs. The best-informed people in France know that they are Berbers, a word of Greek origin, “Bearded,” which refers to us Amazighes, Imazighen — Free Men, as we like to call ourselves. I am thus triply qualified to dispel the obvious confusion you manifest when you identify those you claim to be defending: the Muslim race.
Muslim You Will Stay
Among the individuals that you assign to this racial category, there are militant atheists like me, obviously secularist (laïque). There are atheists who have other fish to fry, they are secularists too. There are atheists who love Charlie Hebdo and support it; others less so or not at all. There are agnostics, skeptics, free-thinkers, deists; they are secularists as well. There are believers who are non-practicing but politically Islamist, practicing but secularist, or even those with “no opinion,” whose daily lives do not suffer because of Charlie Hebdo. There are converts to Christianity — and oh, are they secularist, for they’ve endured the terrors of theocracy in their countries of origin. And finally there are the fundamentalists (intégristes), the militant Islamists, the adherents of an identity defined above all by religion, and those are the ones you have chosen to defend. Those are the ones who, given the reality of French laïcité, have no other choice than to cry racism, a tear in their eye and a hand on their heart, on the pretext that their “religious feelings” have been mocked by a drawing in Charlie. Among them you will find many who stand for laïcité in France but vote Ennahda in Tunisia, who do their shopping at a Parisian halal butcher but would cry scandal if a misfit decided to open a charcuterie in Jeddah. Who are outraged when a day care center fires a veiled employee but say nothing when someone they know forces his daughter to wear the veil. They are a minority. But they are the standard to which you have chosen to align the identity of all of us.
Meanwhile the Sheikh of Bradford and First Sectarian of mainland Britain has his own take. I got the picture from the Council of Ex Muslims of Britain who observe that (a) he’s increased the usual number by half a billion; and (b) it’s hard to do a religious headcount in countries where atheists and agnostics and converts to other religions keep their gobs shut.
Update:- of the 2 billion victimised about 300 turned up to hear Galladin – which is fewer than the 1000s that turned up in anti-Rushdie days. (I got that pic off Twitter and suppose 2014 is a typo.)
We the people declare our inalienable right to take the piss.
To no person will we deny the right to cock snooks at, give the finger to, take the mickey out of.
(Crying as I post this.)
Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built for Cars is a revisionist history, reclaiming the role of bicycles in the development of roads and the cars that dominate them. When a class, a race, a gender reclaims its history it is usually in the cause of self-assertion. After reading this I was indignant when a privileged usurper tooted me for walking across the entrance of a cul-de-sac which they were turning into. Listen, these are my f***** streets too, you know.
The later Victorian age. The railway lines had cut through the country on their purpose-built tracks and profoundly changed ideas of mobility. The roads, once well maintained for mail coaches, had fallen into disuse. But in the 1870s and 1880s people started pedalling themselves at speed and with the commercialisation of the Safety bicycle in 1885 bicycling became popular with the elite, affordable for the middle-classes and then finally through second-hand sales and mass production, taken up by the clerks and the factory workers. It powered invention. In 1896 more than half of the 28,000 patents were for improvements in bicycles.
The Psycho Ladies’ Bicycle -1889. Step through for the skirt problem
Cyclists were heading from the paved streets to the countryside, on roads which unlike the railways were not then seen as conduits for fast-moving traffic. Roads were originally made for a human or horse pace and for short journeys. But a new desire had been formed – for self-propelled travel over a distance on a smooth surface.
Passage on the king’s highway is an ancient right in England. A landmark court case in 1879 established bicycles as “carriages” under law and so with the rights to use the roads in the same way as broughams and hackneys. The Cyclists’ Touring Club had one of their members (an MP) add a clause to the Local Government Act of 1888 which effectively prevented county councils from creating by-laws to prohibit cycling on the roads.
Along with lobbying for legislation cyclists campaigned for better surfaces via bodies like the Roads Improvement Association. Some roadworks the members funded themselves. They produced equipment including a ring to measure the size of stones for surfacing, kept an eye on maintenance and made themselves guardians of the highways as modern cycling advocates act as wardens for cycle paths. Eventually this work was taken over by the Road Board “the first central authority for British roads since Roman times”.
Where the cyclists went the motorists then followed and their lobby groups were often the cycling groups with “Automobile” added to the name. One of Cartlon Reid’s main themes is that this was not a case of the poor man’s transport (the bicycle) overtaken by the rich man’s vehicle (the automobile). Bicycles were at first expensive – the high-wheelers (“penny farthings”) were ridden by moneyed athletes. Aristocrats like the Marquess of Queensberry, Oscar Wilde’s enemy, were keen cyclists as was Daisy, Countess of Warwick, one of Edward VII’s mistresses. Arthur Balfour was president of the National Cyclists’ Union and Herbert Gladstone, son of W E Gladstone and one time Home Secretary vigorously pedalled, and pushed for street paving and road maintenance. In the USA the League of American Wheelmen was founded in Newport, the millionaires’ holiday village,
The League of American Wheelmen also campaigned for better roads via the Good Roads Movement, again with a combination of politics and practical demonstration. Their campaign included rolling “road shows”. “The Good Roads train.. would disgorge road builders, a traction engine, a road roller, a sprinkler and broken stone, from which an “object lesson” road would be constructed at prearranged stopping points.” Railway interests opposed them, and farmers, who were responsible for half-heartedly maintaining the rural roads, did not want to be taxed for the benefit of city-slicker cyclists, however much their own wagons jolted on the ruts and ridges. ”Eventually the farmers were won over and the politicians found there was mileage in a publicly paid for road system.” In 1916 the Federal Aid Road Act was signed by Woodrow Wilson, himself a cyclist who had been much impressed by the roads in Britain and France on cycle journeys in his youth.
By then many of the cyclists had become motorists as well. They were the rich who loved speed and self-propelled travel and the very latest gadgetry, promoted by the cycling industry’s flair for advertising. They used the maps that Messrs Bartholomew had crowd-sourced from members of the Cyclists’ Touring Club. The technology behind these early motors – the pneumatic tyres, the ball bearings, the spoked wheels, the precision engineering skills – had been created by the cycling industry.
French cycling poster, 1897
“Carl-Benz’s Patent Motorwagon, the first true automobile, was a motorised two-seater tricycle… The key components for Henry Ford’s Quadricycle – including the wire spoke wheels, bush roller chains and pneumatic tyres – were from bicycles.”
The Nazis erased the cycling origins of Benz’s Motorwagen from history and monument and at the launch of the 15 millionth Model T in 1927 the Ford company claimed that the “Ford car… started the movement for good roads.” The now plebeian bicycle became something of an embarrassing ancestor to the more powerful and more progressive seeming vehicle.
So the well-connected cyclists who had lobbied for good roads became well-connected motorists who wanted unthwarted access to these roads. And they took them over, though they numbered only in thousands, while the cyclists were in the millions because the masses had begun to ride bicycles.
The rights to the passage on the King’s highway was a liberal right which then in the spirit of Ayn Rand was taken over by the strongest and most ruthless. Even a speed limit law was seen as “unEnglish” and as the motorists were of the upper echelons, they resented being treated as criminals for breaking it. (The motoring public is still resentful that they are subject to law – witness fury at speed cameras. One of the cycling groups’ aims is to lower speeds in urban centres to 20mph.)
Carlton Reid compares this to the enclosures “when land in common use by the many was fenced in and appropriated by the few.”
And like the landowner the motorist feels himself entitled to the roads. Hold up his passage he won’t feel merely inconvenienced, but righteously outraged, spluttering like Hilaire Belloc’s JP:-
I have a right because I have, because,
Because I have, because I have a right.
Moreover, I have got the upper hand,
And mean to keep it. Do you understand?
Familiar political themes run through this book. One is of how laissez faire can become devil take (or run over) the hindmost. Another is the Revolution Devouring Its Own Children. A group or class will agitate to bring about a change that will ultimately destroy them, like Iranian leftists demonstrating for the removal of the Shah only to end up being killed by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic. The cyclists lobbied for good roads and got them, and were then pushed off them by the sheer force of a ton of metal, going at five times their speed.
However though Roads Were Not Built… is a polemic shot through with a sense of injustice for the written out and colonised – the literally marginalised literally pushed in the gutter when they had literally paved the way for the motorist – it could be enjoyed by Jeremy Clarkson. It buzzes and hums with innovation and invention. It’s crowded with energetic promoters and lobbyists, engineers and entrepreneurs and tinkerers, sportsmen and pioneers. Cycling did come as a miracle, bestowing a sense of speed and independence. “The cyclist is a man half made of flesh and half of steel that only our century of science and iron could have spawned.” wrote Charles-Louis Baudry de Saunier in The Art of Cycling (1894).
In our own equally exciting and innovative age of computing we are half flesh, half digital stream. Thus Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built… was kickstarted by crowdfunding. He put his researches on his entertaining blog. You can get the book as a big dead-tree soft-back with lots of colour plates (histories of cycling always have cool pics) or as an “iPad version with 10 videos, two audio clips, a 3D spinnable object, and 580+ illustrations, many of which zoom to full-screen.“
Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce
The book ends with potted biographies of many of the motor grandees with a cycling background and their firms, my favourite being that of Lionel Martin. Eton rich. Held long-distance records on tandem and tricycle. He and his friend Robert Bamford were both members of the Bath Road Club and were souping up ordinary cars.
Their advertisement in the Bath Road News:- “If you must sell your birthright for a mess of petrol, why not purchase your car – from Bamford & Martiin Ltd, the most humorous firm in the motor trade.” These cars became Aston Martins.
“Martin was a tricyclist to his dying day. He was killed in October 1945 after being knocked from his tricycle by a motor car on a suburban road in Kingston-upon-Thames.”
I had hopes that it would not have been a 55/45 split in the Scotland’s referendum but more of a 35/65 one. Instead the vote swung from closer towards independence than most had anticipated a year ago and the Scottish National Party has gained thousands of recruits from disappointed Yessers and those on the left who have given up on the Labour Party. They are likely to win most of Scotland’s seats in the next general election.
This, along with the rise of UKIP this swing to nationalistic and populist politics should not be surprising in Britain. It’s happening all over the continent, with France’s Front National having a good chance of winning the presidency and the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece and of the Sweden Democrats.
This sort of politics with its whiff of the thirties is very alarming.
Kenan Malik’s piece here is excellent on the rise of right-wing populism within Europe:-
“What are considered populist parties comprise, in fact, very different kinds of organizations, with distinct historical roots, ideological values and networks of social support. Some, such as Golden Dawn, are openly Nazi. Others, such as the Front National are far-right organizations that in recent years have tried to rebrand themselves to become more mainstream. Yet others – UKIP for instance – have reactionary views, play to far-right themes such as race and immigration, but have never been part of the far-right tradition.
What unites this disparate group is that all define themselves through a hostility to the mainstream and to what has come to be regarded as the dominant liberal consensus. Most of the populist parties combine a visceral hatred of immigration with an acerbic loathing of the EU, a virulent nationalism and deeply conservative views on social issues such as gay marriage and women’s rights.
The emergence of such groups reveals far more, however, than merely a widespread disdain for the mainstream. It expresses also the redrawing of Europe’s political map, and the creation of a new faultline on that map. The postwar political system, built around the divide between social democratic and conservative parties, is being dismantled. Not only has this created new space for the populists, but it is also transforming the very character of political space.
The new political faultline in Europe is not between left and right, between social democracy and conservatism, but between those who feel at home in – or at least are willing to accommodate themselves to – the post-ideological, post-political world, and those who feel left out, dispossessed and voiceless. These kinds of divisions have always existed, of course. In the past, however, that sense of dispossession and voicelessness could be expressed politically, particularly through the organizations of the left and of the labour movement. No longer. It is the erosion of such mechanisms that is leading to the remaking of Europe’s political landscape.
as broader political, cultural and national identities have eroded, and as traditional social networks, institutions of authority and moral codes have weakened, so people’s sense of belonging has become more narrow and parochial, moulded less by the possibilities of a transformative future than by an often mythical past. The politics of ideology has, in other words, given way to the politics of identity…
we need to establish new social mechanisms through which to link liberal ideas about immigration and individual rights with progressive economic arguments and a belief in the community and the collective. Those who today rightly bemoan the corrosion of collective movements and community organizations often also see the problem as too much immigration. Those who take a liberal view on immigration, and on other social issues, are often happy with a more individualized, atomized society. Until all three elements of a progressive outlook – a defence of immigration, freedom of movement and of individual rights, a challenge to austerity policies and the embrace of collective action – can be stitched together, and stitched into a social movement, then there will be no proper challenge to the populists.”