Last Tango in Parris

Journalist Carlton Reid has brought this to everyone’s attention on his brilliant website.

The title of this post refers to Matthew Parris, an ex-MP and columnist. In 2007 he wrote a column in the Times ranting against cyclists.

‘A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists. It’s not just the Lycra, though Heaven knows this atrocity alone should be a capital offence; nor the helmets, though these ludicrous items of headgear are designed to protect the only part of a cyclist that is not usefully employed; nor the self-righteousness, though a small band of sports cyclists on winter’s morning emits more of that than a cathedral at evensong; nor even the brutish disregard for all other road users, though the lynching of a cyclist by a mob of mothers with pushchairs would be a joy to witness.’

That’s just the opening paragraph! He then carries on in a way that makes Jeremy Clarkson’s words read like a bedtime story involving kittens. To be fair, Mr Parris was probably unaware of the fact that hilarious country dwellers were stringing wire between trees and fence posts on bridleways to garrotte cyclists and horse riders (it certainly wasn’t to catch 5ft tall foxes). Thankfully these were, and are rare events but you have to ask what passes through the minds of these spineless, spiteful people to summon up such hatred through these words and deeds.

The article received over 200 complaints to the PCC and an apology followed.

Let’s fast forward to last week’s Spectator. Mr Parris discusses the Monsal Trail in the Peak District National Park. Four disused railway tunnels are being opened up to create a path with easier gradients for cyclists, horse riders and walkers allowing decent connections to other routes. Part of the funding is coming from Cycling England.

(Further reading about the trail can be found at this wonderful blog post from the Worthing Wanderer)

However, Mr Parris continues,

‘……. couldn’t cyclists themselves be more involved in the funding of Cycling England — some £160 million per annum? Cyclists have a strong sense of community and are good at organising (as I know to my cost, having once upset them). I would hazard a guess that as an overall group they do not represent a particularly disadvantaged section of society. They pay no road tax. Cyclists do already support a range of cycling organisations, local and national, out of their own pockets: why not this one, if they want it to continue?….’

Regular readers of this blog (and Carlton Reid’s website) will of course have spotted his cardinal error; Road Tax hasn’t existed for over 70 years and even then it was heavily subsidised. Cyclists have always contributed to road building through Central and Local Taxation, often contributing to the creation of conditions hostile to cyclists. As seasoned cycle campaigners know, cycling budgets at National and Council level are woeful. West Sussex County Council have just confirmed that there is no money in the pot this year for cycling due to all the recent pothole repairs and of course cuts, cuts, cuts, except where motoring is concerned. (Actually I’m glad they haven’t any money because there’ll be no more of this, this or this)

Mr Parris continues,

…at an ancient and historic copper mine I visited in neighbouring Cheshire two years ago, a group of volunteer enthusiasts have been clearing away rubble for many years, all unpaid and all in their spare time. Most cyclists are by definition fit, strong and healthy. Campaigning by cycling groups will have been part of the genesis of this Monsal Trail project. Why not involve campaigners in the work itself? Shifting rubble is not highly skilled; it would be fun to be involved. Walking and horse-riding groups, to all of whose members these tunnels are planned to open, could join in’

and then he enthuses,

‘… how to collect the money? Here, government can help co-ordinate: if cyclists were to consolidate their organisations into a sort of AA of cycling, a range of benefits — like using this trail, or public cycle-racks, or railway provision for cycles, or discounts in cycle shops, could be made dependent on showing the badge.’

The CTC has been around since 1878. They successfully campaigned for cyclists’ right to be on the road, and to use bridleways (years before the Mountain Bike). They offer free third party insurance to members, free legal assistance and discounts in cycle shops.  Above all, they have volunteers working across the country; People that fight in their spare time to open up trails, to get our voice heard in Highways Departments that couldn’t care less and to secure funding through whatever means.

All this for something so beautifully simple, previous generations did it without even thinking.

Volunteers have always been the backbone of cycling, from those that build and maintain Mountain Bike trails, to the Sustrans Rangers acting as custodians of the National Cycle Network, to the volunteer marshals at road and mountain bike events across the land, to all the campaign groups, to the devilishly handsome cycling blog writers to the venerable CTC.

In conclusion, Matthew Parris is nothing more than a misguided fool who needs to do more research. Maybe he should do a bit of volunteer work in the CTC offices. He might learn something.

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2 responses to “Last Tango in Parris

    • Good Lord Mr Reid, I’d only just posted that! Thanks for the thanks.

      Keep up the good work. I wear my ipayroadtax jersey with pride!

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