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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As bad as stealing bacon – why did the Victorians treat acid attacks so leniently?

In an era of executions and transportation, 19th century courts were surprisingly laissez-faire about acid attacks. 

"We are rather anxious to see the punishment of death rescinded in all cases except that of Murder," stated the Glasgow publication, The Loyal Reformers’ Gazette, in 1831. But it did not share this opinion when it came to Hugh Kennedy.

Previously of “irreproachable character", Kennedy fell out with a fellow servant and decided to take his revenge by pouring acid on the man while he was asleep. “He awoke in agony, one of his eyes being literally burned out,” The Gazette reported.

Lamenting the rise in acid attacks, the otherwise progressive journal recommended “the severest punishment” for Kennedy:

“We would have their arms cut off by the shoulders, and, in that state, send them to roam as outcasts from society without the power of throwing vitriol again."

More than 180 years later, there are echoes of this sentiment in the home secretary’s response to a spate of acid attacks in London. “I quite understand when victims say they feel the perpetrators themselves should have a life sentence,” Amber Rudd told Sky News. She warned attackers would feel “the full force of the law”.

Acid attacks leave the victims permanently disfigured, and often blinded. Surprisingly, though, the kind of hardline punishment advocated by The Gazette was actually highly unusual, according to Dr Katherine Watson, a lecturer in the history of medicine at Oxford Brookes University. Hugh Kennedy was in fact the only person hung for an acid attack.

“If you look at the cases that made it to court, you see there is a huge amount of sympathy for the perpetrators,” she says.

"You want your victim to suffer but you don’t want them to die”

Acid attacks emerged with the industrial revolution in Britain. From the late 1700s, acid was needed to bleach cotton and prevent metals from rusting, and as a result became widely available.

At first, acid was a weapon of insurrection. “Vitriol throwing (that is, the throwing of corrosive substances like sulphuric acid) was a big problem in 1820s Glasgow trade disputes,” says Shane Ewen, an urban historian at Leeds Beckett University. Other cases involved revenge attacks on landlords and employers.

Faced with this anarchic threat, the authorities struck back. Scotland introduced a strict law against acid attacks in the 1820s, while the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act s.29 placed provided for a maximum sentence of life in England and Wales.

In reality, though, acid attackers could expect to receive far more lenient sentences. Why?

“They had sad stories,” says Watson, a leading historian of acid attacks. “Although they had done something terrible, the journalists and juries could empathise with them.”

Acid attacks were seen as expressions of revenge, even glorified as crimes of passion. As Watson puts it: “The point is you want your victim to suffer but you don’t want them to die.”

Although today, around the world, acid attacks are associated with violence against women, both genders used acid as a weapon in 19th century and early 20th century Britain. Acid crept into popular culture. Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1924 Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Illustrious Client, featured a mistress throwing vitriol in her former lover’s face. In Brighton Rock, Graham Greene’s 1938 novel, the gangster Pinkie attacks his female nemesis Ida Arnold with his vial of acid, before falling to his death.

Lucy Williams, the author of Wayward Women: Female Offending in Victorian England, agrees that Victorians took a lenient attitude to acid attacks. “Historically speaking sentences for acid attacks were quite low,” she says. “Serious terms of imprisonment would only usually be given if the injury caused permanent blindness, death, or was life-threatening.

“If this was not the case, a defendant might spend just a few months in prison - sometimes even less.”

Courts would weigh up factors including the gender of the attacker and victim, and the strength of the substance.

But there was another factor, far removed from compassion “Many of the sentences that we would now consider extremely lenient were a product of a judicial system that valued property over people,” says Williams. It was quite common for violent offences to receive just a few weeks or months in prison.

One case Williams has researched is that of the 28 year old Sarah Newman, who threw sulphuric acid at Cornelius Mahoney, and was tried for the “intent to burn and disfigure him” at the Old Bailey in 1883. The attacker and victim had been living together, and had three children together, but Mahoney had abandoned Newman to marry another woman.

Although Mahoney lost the sight in his right eye, his attacker received just 12 months imprisonment with hard labour.

Two other cases, uncovered by Ancestry.co.uk, illustrate the Victorian attitude to people and property. Mary Morrison, a servant in her 40s, threw acid in the face of her estranged husband after he didn’t give her a weekly allowance. The attack disfigured and blinded him.

In 1883, Morrison was jailed for five years, but released after two and a half. The same year, Dorcas Snell, also in her 40s, received a very similar sentence – for stealing a piece of bacon.

"People just had more options"

If Victorian attitudes become clearer with research, why acid attacks receded in the 20th century remains something of a mystery.

“My theory is people just had more options,” says Watson. With manufacturing on the wane, it became a little harder to get hold of corrosive fluid. But more importantly, the underlying motivation for acid attacks was disappearing. “Women can just walk away from relationships, they can get divorced, get a job. And maybe men don’t feel the same shame if women leave.”

Acid attacks did not disappear completely, though. Yardie gangs – mainly comprised of Jamaican immigrants – used acid as a weapon in the 1960s. Other gangs may have used it too, against victims who would rather suffer in silence than reveal themselves to the police.

Meanwhile, in 1967, the first acid attacks in Bangladesh and India were recorded. This would be the start of a disturbing, misogynistic trend of attacks across Asia. “Acid attacks, like other forms of violence against women, are not random or natural phenomena,” Professor Yakin Ertürk, the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, wrote in 2011. “Rather, they are social phenomena deeply embedded in a gender order that has historically privileged patriarchal control over women and justified the use of violence to ‘keep women in their places’.”

The re-emergence of acid attacks in Britain has been interpreted by some as another example of multiculturalism gone wrong. “The acid attacks of London’s Muslim no-go zones”, declared the right-wing, US-based Front Page magazine.

In fact, descriptions of the recent attackers include white men, and black and minority ethnic groups are disproportionately among the victims. A protest by delivery drivers against acid attacks was led by Asian men. 

Jaf Shah, from the Acid Survivors Trust International, suspects the current spate of attacks in fact originates from gang-related warfare that has in turn inspired copycat attacks. “In the UK because of the number of men attacked, it goes against the global pattern,” he says. “It’s complicated by multiple motivations behind these attacks.” Unlike other weapons in the UK, acid is easy to obtain and carry, while acid attacks are prosecuted under the non-specific category of grievous bodily harm. 

Among the recent victims is a British Muslim businessman from Luton, who says he was attacked by a bald white man, two teenage boys in east London, a delivery man, also in east London, who had his moped stolen at the same time, and a man in Leicester whose girlfriend – in a move Hugh Kennedy would recognise – poured acid on him while he slept.

Shah believes the current anxiety about acid attacks stems from the fact the general public is being attacked, rather than simply other members of gangs. Perhaps, also, it relates to the fact that, thanks to advances in our understanding of trauma since the Victorian period, 21st century lawmakers are less interested in the theft of a moped than the lifetime of scars left on the driver who was attacked.

With Rudd promising a crackdown, the penalties for acid throwing are only likely to get harsher. “Many survivors feel the sentencing is too lenient,” Shah says. Still, the rise and fall and rise again of acid throwing in the UK suggests the best way to eradicate the crime may lie outside the courts.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.