Vote Cycling on May 1st

The London mayoral and assembly polls give voters a chance to influence policy in the UK capital. He

There are 800,000 regular cyclists in London and they have every reason to turn up at the polling stations on May 1st in London.

The mayor doesn’t run everything in London but he or she does have powers over the things that matter to cyclists, including the budget, the management of Transport for London and creating the strategic plans that govern the city’s transport, planning and the environment.

Probably the most obvious example of the difference the mayor can make is the creation of the congestion charging zone in 2003 leading to a one third increase in cycling within a year. “A good and effective mayor can really make London a more liveable city," says the director of the London Cycling Campaign, Koy Thomson, “We’re voting for the kind of London we want to call home."

It’s worth remembering that the May elections are not just for the London mayor but also for the London Assembly. Assembly members can use their power to approve the Mayor’s budget to secure policy commitments. Using their two pivotal votes Green Party members for example have pushed through funding for key cycling and walking measures such as greenways and cycle training

The question for voters is which candidate will genuinely make a London a more liveable city and a city that truly welcomes cycle users. All the leading candidates told the LCC’s magazine London Cyclist that they are pro-cycling. And indeed they need to be behind cycling, because without a 400% increase in cycling from 2000 to 2025, the anticipated increase in population of one million will mean that London’s transport system will grind to a halt. Under Ken Livingstone cycling has soared by more than 83% in the capital, while it’s barely changed in the rest of the UK, but there is still along way to go to the 400% target.

The London Cycling Campaign asked the four leading Mayoral candidates (Sian Berry (Green); Boris Johnson (Conservative); Ken Livingstone (Labour) and; Brian Paddick (Lib-Dem) to comment on the LCC’s 10 point cycling manifesto for the elections (see below).

The one cycling measure that the four leading candidates all agree on is a mass bike hire scheme modelled on the successful Paris Velib scheme.

Sian Berry unreservedly backs all the other LCC manifesto points, including a 20mph speed limit on most urban streets, and adds that she would seek to increase spending on cycling threefold by 2012.

Boris Johnson’s emphasis is on deterring cycle theft (he’s had 7 bikes stolen) – he has pledged to provide 10,000 more bike stands in London. He is also considering allowing bikes to turn left at red traffic lights. Despite his cycling credentials Boris has upset many cyclists by planning to put motorcycles in all bus lanes – hitherto a cyclist refuge from lorries and cars.

Ken Livingstone’s cycling programme is backed by a promise of funding – he’s pledged to spend £500 million on cycling over ten years and proposes two new measures in addition to a mass bike hire scheme: 12 cycling super highways into central London and 15 bike zones around town centres. Ken is also committed to completing the 900 km London Cycle Network+. Brian Paddick’s push would be to reduce road traffic crime by both motorists and cyclists. He also backs reduced cycle theft, completion of the LCN+ and cycle training.

Cycling has grown in London over the past four years because of measures to restrain motor traffic and the allocation of funding for cycling and walking. To make London a city we can be proud of the next mayor, and the next London Assembly, need to accelerate the process of making London welcoming to old and new cyclists. Positive words are a fine thing but ultimately it comes down to concrete actions and financial commitment. Thus far, of the leading candidates only Sian Berry and Ken Livingstone have promised to sustain and increase funding for cycling. Cyclists will be watching to see if their rivals can match or beat those commitments.

London Cycling Campaign Mayoral and London Assembly Manifesto 2008

Achieving a major cultural shift from driving to cycling is central to the development of London as a sustainable, thriving and liveable city. Cycling must become an everyday way to get around for Londoners, including families and children.

Removing the many barriers to cycling will unleash suppressed demand and offer Londoners real choice. This means changing the status quo in favour of cycling.

With political will and the support of senior transport planners, a transformation akin to that seen in London’s bus services can be achieved for cycling in a single Mayoral term.

10 point plan to transform cycling in London

1. Make 20mph the standard speed limit on London’s streets to reduce road danger and encourage cycling and walking.

2. Make reducing road traffic crime a London-wide policing priority because these crimes lead to the most injuries and deaths.

3. Deliver free on-road cycle training for London’s children, subsidised training for adults of all abilities and compulsory training for highway engineers and transport planners.

4. Return one way systems and streets to two-way operation and create advantages for cycling and walking, thus maximising route choice and minimising diversion. Provide means and incentives for boroughs to support this shift.

5. Ensure high-standard cycle parking is available at every workplace, station and shopping area, as well as in all new homes.

6. Ensure the budget for the completion of the London Cycle Network Plus (LCN+) to a high standard in all 33 boroughs with effective removal of all barriers and the creation of strong network links between boroughs.

7. Adopt ambitious targets to encourage walking and cycling to all events and attractions supported by the Mayor, culminating in the first ‘active spectator’ Olympics in 2012.

8. Create a Paris-style mass cycle hire scheme by 2009 and include all Olympic venues by 2012.

9. Start a major campaign of action against cycle theft including a significant theft reduction target for the Metropolitan Police in every borough.

10. Produce a tube-style map showing strategically important and family friendly cycle routes to encourage Londoners to think of cycling as an everyday mode of transport.

To find out who you should be voting for on May 1st visit our Fantasy Mayor site.

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.