Over Bike-Share Schemes, The Wall Street Journal Loses the Plot

“Do not ask me to enter the mind of the totalitarians running this government.”

Following London, Paris, Montreal, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Brussels, and many, many more cities worldwide, New York City has just launched its own bikeshare program, sponsored by Citibank. The reaction to the launch has been slightly more hysterical in that city than it was in others, though. Driven by a combination of things – New York's general cycle-unfriendliness, the belief that it is a pet project of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the American right's depressing knee-jerk hatred of anything dubbed "environmental" – opposition to the "citibikes" has become untethered from reality and floated off into its own pocket universe. I present exhibit A, a Wall Street Journal opinion video on the topic, title "Death by Bicycle":

That's Dorothy Rabinowitz, who sits on the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, saying, with a straight face, that

Before this, every citizen knew, who was in any way sentient, that the most important danger in the city is not the yellow cabs. It is the bicyclists.

And that:

The bike lobby is an all-powerful enterprise.

And that:

Some enterprising new mayor [should undo Bloomberg's changes] and preserve our traffic patterns.

Perhaps most amazingly, she goes on a long spiel about how Taxi Drivers have signs in their cabs warning them to watch out for bikes, and complains that nobody tells cyclists the same thing, which does nothing but demonstrate that she hasn't actually seen the bikes:

The video is so unhinged that it's actually starting to reflect upon the publication itself. Rabinowitz herself is high up at the paper, and as the Atlantic's James Fallows writes:

I've always wondered how exactly to describe the temperament, the broadmindedness, the analytical subtlety, the Id that through the decades have shaped the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Conveniently, the Journal has filled that need, via this video interview with one of its editorial board members. Henceforth when you read the Journal's editorials, I invite you to hear this voice, expression, and tone.

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, meanwhile, says that the Journal "just ate the Onion’s lunch", while Reuters' Felix Salmon merely picks a few choice quotes to present "without comment".

In short, if high-up members of your paper's editorial board approach a bike sharing scheme as though someone had proposed to shoot their, and everyone else's, puppy, try and keep them off-camera. It only ends badly.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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