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.

Getty/Julia Rampen
Show Hide image

View from Paisley: How the Conservatives are wooing Labour's Scottish heartlands

Not so long ago, Conservative activists in Paisley could expect doors slammed in their faces. A referendum has changed that.

Tony Lawler, a Labour activist, was recently knocking on doors in the Scottish town of Paisley, when he came across a disgruntled resident. “I’m really disappointed in Douglas Alexander,” the potential voter complained. “I haven’t seen him. He used to be in Morrisons.”

Douglas Alexander, of course, has gone. He was the longstanding Labour MP and onetime International Development secretary who lost his seat in 2015 to a 20-year-old rival, the Scottish National Party’s Mhairi Black. He does not plan to stand again. But when I visit Paisley, a short train ride from Glasgow, I find that memories of him linger on. 

Two years after Alexander’s defeat, I meet Lawler and other local Labour activists in Morrisons, where Alexander used to hold his surgeries. As checkouts beep and trolley wheels roll over linoleum, they point to an empty table in the corner of this hallowed ground: “He used to sit just there.”

In 2015, the SNP’s victory in this former manufacturing town seemed to epitomise the earthquake in Scottish politics. But as the Labour activists know too well, no political fortress is undefeatable. And in Paisley, the home of one of the oldest workers’ festivals in the world, the party with the most to gain is one that previously never dared to canvass in the high street – the Conservative party. 

The town the Brexiteers forgot

In 1988, the historian Sylvia Clarke reflected on Paisley’s lost industries, wondering what was next for the former weaving towns. “Paisley as a tourist centre?” she wondered, in Paisley: A History. “Paisley as a place for visitors to come to, rather than a send-out of goods and emigrants?” 

For all Paisley’s industrial decline, it’s a pretty place. The town is in the running for the 2021 City of Culture, and has the second biggest number of listed buildings after Edinburgh. When I visit in the middle of April, blossom floats on the trees, and a river meanders through a neighbourhood of old, stone houses. It takes a moment to notice weeds tightening their grasp on the window frames. When I try the door of the ancient Paisley Abbey, it’s locked.

Perhaps if Paisley had been located the other side of the border, in Sunderland or Northumbria, it would be voting Leave and flirting with Ukip. But in the most deprived areas here, Labour activists tell me the EU referendum tally was still almost 50-50, and overall the town voted Remain.

There is a view that Brexit is an English concern. “We haven’t picked up anything about the EU referendum,” says Lawler of his doorstep conversations. “What people are talking about is the independence referendum, Jeremy Corbyn and the kids’ ward.” Scotland’s health secretary, Shona Robison, is due to make a decision on whether the specialist ward should be moved to a large hospital in the First Minister’s Glasgow constituency, against the wishes of many Paisley residents. The hospital in question is nicknamed “the Death Star”.  

Another concern, reminiscent of small towns across the UK, is the decline of the high street. When I walk down the historical shopping area Causeyside Street, I find mother and daughter Kate and Linda Hancy packing up what remains of The Pattern Café and Gift Shop. The wallpaper is a glorious Paisley print, but the scented candles are in boxes and a spray soap bottle hangs from a chair. After two years of trying, they are closing down.  

“People just don’t have money to spend,” Kate says. “A lot of people have been on the same wage for more than five years.”

Linda chimes in: “The cost of living going up but wages aren’t the same. I work in a supermarket, and people come in and say ‘How did I spend this much money?’ A lot of people are paying by credit cards.”

The Hancys voted to remain in the UK, and the EU. Although they knew Alexander, they have never met Mhairi Black, and feel devolution, if anything, has made politicians less accountable. “Why are we picking 1,2,3,4,” demands Kate, referring to Holyrood's voting system, which rejected first past the post. “Why can’t we pick one like we used to?”

Without the EU to blame, the most obvious culprits for Paisley town centre’s decline are the out-of-town shopping centres, where cinemas are opening just as historical ones in town close their doors.

Gavin Simpson, owner of Feel the Groove, a new record shop, remembers the 1980s, when a new release would have shoppers queuing round the block. However, he believes the town is over the worst. (As we speak, a customer comes in to reserve such a record and cheerfully warns Gavin that “even if I ask for my money back, don’t give it to me.”)

One thriving business is the longstanding butchers, Wm Phelps. Manager James Peacock tells me it is down to the trustworthy Scottish produce, which is carefully tracked and labelled. But the business has also embraced globalisation.  After noticing a large number of South African customers, Peacock began selling boerewors and biltong.

The other referendum campaign

If Paisley has been spared the divisions of the EU referendum campaign, its “buddies” – as residents are known – are still reeling with the repercussions of an earlier referendum, that on Scotland in the UK. In 2014, the town voted for independence, although the county overall opted to stay in the UK. 

The town is home to a particularly brash strain of indyreffers, including the “Smith Commission burners”, three SNP councillors who gathered in front of the council headquarters to burn a copy of the report setting out new powers for Scotland. One of them, Mags MacLaren, went on to manage Black’s constituency office.

But if the Paisley independence movement has been well covered, less is known about its opposite - the rise of pro-unionism. 

Of the three mainstream parties opposed to independence, it is the Scottish Conservatives, with their unconventional leader Ruth Davidson, who have most effectively capitalised on the pro-union message. In the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, the Tory Jackson Carlaw captured the West of Scotland constituency of Eastwood, which had been held by Labour since its creation. 

In Holyrood, the Scottish Tories benefit from proportional representation, which allows voters to choose a constituency MSP but also rank parties. 

According to Paul Masterton, the Tory candidate for East Renfrewshire, and the secretary of the Renfrewshire and Inverclyde Scottish Conservative Association, the Conservatives are now getting huge numbers of first preference votes, including in neighbourhoods like the suburb of Ralston, where both Black and Masterton are from. So who are these voters? Masterton describes them as “New Labour voters who were happy with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown but didn’t like Jeremy Corbyn and get tied up into knots by [Scottish Labour leader] Kezia Dugdale flipflopping on the union stance".

The 2016 election saw the Scottish Conservatives surge to second place in Scotland – a superb comeback for a party once ridiculed as being rarer than pandas. The next electoral test is the local council elections. In Paisley, even Labour activists acknowledged the Conservatives were likely to be the most notable winners.

“For a long time we simply didn’t go out in Paisley," says Masterton. "We were written off and we allowed ourselves to be written off.”

But the referendum has changed this. “What I found was that last May, people weren’t shutting the door in your face," he adds. "Once you started the conversation they were far more receptive to that.” 

Like the Labour activists, Masterton argues that the constitutional question matters more than Brexit. “When Theresa May said ‘now is not the time’, I think a lot of people across Paisley did a small quiet fist pump,” he says of a second independence referendum.  

Ironically, after the early election is called, the Scottish Conservatives do everything they can to mention the prospect. “Don't mention the 'i' word,” crows a recent press release about the “SNP indyref ban”. Davidson tweets: “Nicola doesn't want to stand on her record. She knows the country doesn't want her #indyref2.” A Panelbase survey commissioned by The Sunday Times Scotland published shortly after the early election was announced finds support for the Conservatives at Scotland at 33 per cent, 18 percentage points higher than in 2015. 

What you stand for

For now, Paisley remains a Scottish National Party stronghold. George Adams, the MSP with an office off the high street, proves elusive – Labour activists confirm his reputation as a hardworking local. Black’s aide turns down my request for an interview for similar reasons, but I bump into her that evening at a protest against cutting child tax credits in Glasgow’s George Square.

Black, an admirer of the left-wing Labour figure Tony Benn, once said she feels "it is the Labour party that left me". I ask her if she, like her Labour predecessor, holds surgeries in supermarkets. Black says she’d considered it, but given the sensitivity of some of the issues, such as benefit problems, she thought her constituents might appreciate a more private space. “The main thing that crosses the door in my offices is Universal Credit changes,” she explains. She says she has raised her concerns about the children’s ward.

As for the independence debate, she argues that the Scottish government have been “incredibly compromising” since Brexit, but adds: “A lot of folk want another chance at the question.”

Black is standing for re-election. With a majority of more than 5,000, and neither of her previous challengers in the running, she’s likely to keep her seat, even if buddies' discontent over local issues rumbles on. 

Still, as I have discovered, the 2014 referendum continues to reverberate in towns like Paisley. It has divided friends and neighbours on constitutional lines, galvanised new strains of politics, and brought a Labour heavyweight crashing down, with no appetite to return. 

The Tories believe their unionist message is enough to flip seats like East Renfrewshire, once Conservative, then Labour, and now an SNP marginal. As the SNP's shine wears off, could Paisley, with its long tradition of the left, one day follow? It no longer feels implausible. “The one thing about the Scottish Conservatives - and this is true whatever you like us or not,” says Masterton. “You know what we stand for.”

 

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. 

0800 7318496