A to B: Transport week at the New Statesman

Introducing a week of themed posts on how we get from here to there and back again.

It's not where you go, it's how you get there. We all need to get around, from the day-to-day (the average Briton spends three and a half hours commuting every week) to the less frequent (there were 45 million flights abroad in 2012, mostly to Europe).

And how we choose to do it matters. In 2011, 21 people died on the London Underground, while 16 cyclists died in the capital. Those numbers may be roughly comparable, but when you consider that the Tube carries four million people a day while there is an eighth that number of cyclists, it's clear that one group is taking a much bigger (though still small) risk.

Living with that risk may be the cause of the fierce group dynamic cyclists display. But it's not just them. How we travel can define us in surprising ways. From the shared drudgery of an eight and a half hour coach trip across England to the commuters standing in an overcrowded train doing its best impression of a sardine tin, the trip matters almost as much as the destination.

Of course, for some people, the trip is the destination. Take the itinerant retirees of the British canal system, who give up society to live a life of fields, tiny town shops and everlasting damp; or the hundreds of rough sleepers who make the most of London's night bus network to catch 90 minutes of safe rest.

Over the next week, we'll be taking a look at all these aspects of transport and more. Hayley Campbell gives her rules for cycling; Alan White shares his time on a narrowboat; Samira Shackle reports on the car-centric lives of wealthy Pakistanis; and there will be more besides.

Monday: Hayley Campbell has been cycling in London for two years and is inexplicably Not Dead. Now you can be Not Dead too.

Tuesday: Alan White shares his time floating around Britain's canal network, and Alex Andreou shares the unique relationship a migrant has with planes.

Wednesday: Samira Shackle writes about the dependence the rich of Pakistan have on their cars, and Labour's shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle calls of the government to end its stop-start approach to cycling.

Thursday: Holly Baxter shares her love-hate relationship with National Express, the red-headed stepchild of transport, and Eleanor Margolis recounts her experience with the vikings of the N22.

Friday: Caroline Crampton recalls the time her parents were lost at sea.

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.