'More rational policies, less gesture politics'

The Association of British Drivers (ABD) gives its take on the policies of the main London Mayor can

Drivers have been penalised by policies introduced by Ken Livingstone over the last few years. Is that surprising considering his alleged past comments of, “I hate cars"? Private cars are still the most frequent mode of transport for Londoners, and are essential for anyone living in the suburbs. But we have faced the London Congestion Charge, increased penalties for trivial traffic infringements, swingeing penalties for accidental parking infringements, cameras that spy on us all the time and the transfer of public road space for reserved use by buses, taxis and cyclists. Even traffic lights have been re-phased to give more time to pedestrians and less to road users, with no obvious need or benefit.

The London Congestion Charge has been an abject failure, with the charge increased from the initial £5 to £8, and soon it will be £25 for larger vehicles. But with 70% of the revenue going into operating the system, this must make it one of the most inefficient taxes ever. Traffic speeds are now almost back to what they were before the charge was introduced. Even the environmental benefit is illusory with no reduction in air pollution as measured within the congestion charge zone, despite the false propaganda that emanates from the Mayor and Transport for London.

How do the other mayoral candidates line up on this issue? The Association of British Drivers would like to see the Congestion Charge scrapped as we are opposed to all forms of road pricing but only the UK Independence Party candidate Gerald Batten would go that far. Conservative candidate Boris Johnson would reform it in several ways. Firstly he would redo the consultation on the western extension and listen to the results – and there is nothing like true democracy. Secondly he would change the system to be “account based” so that accidental penalties could not be incurred, and review other aspects of the system. He would also abandon the £25 Congestion Charge proposal which even TfL admits has no possible environmental benefit. So he goes some way in the right direction.

Brian Paddick of the Liberal Democrats seems to be confused, with policies to scrap the western extension and the £25 charge, but he wants to introduce a new £10 charge to enter the Greater London cordon. No votes there amongst our members for sure.

However both Paddick and Johnson support rephrasing of traffic lights and the vigorous tackling of the problem of road works which we can wholeheartedly support.

What the ABD would like to see is a more rational approach to the road transport problems of London. We do not like the “gesture politics” promoted by Mr Livingstone – unnecessary attacks on car drivers in the spurious name of road safety or environmental benefit. We would also like more attention given to the economic issues associated with such policies. Therefore we are keen to improve the air quality of London and reduce unnecessary emissions from road vehicles, but we opposed to the way the Mayor introduced the Low Emission Zone – a massive cost with almost no benefit.

We would like a new mayor who listens democratically to all Londoners, including car drivers, and does not treat us like second class citizens to be hobbled and pilloried all the time. Private cars are a massive convenience to most Londoners and there are few practical alternatives for many purposes. Let’s stop discriminating against car drivers in favour of bus users, cyclists or anyone else. Policies should be practical not impractical. For example 20 mph zones everywhere are difficult to adhere to and impossible to enforce. Road safety policies should be dictated by real evidence not fanciful claims (road deaths in London are not falling significantly despite the rash of speed humps, 20 mph zones, speed cameras and other attacks on road users in recent years).

London’s transport system will not grind to a halt if we stop discouraging car use – in reality traffic levels in London have remained remarkably constant over the years because they are self regulating despite the rise in car numbers. Traffic levels have even fallen in outer London boroughs in recent years.

No we don’t need to remove cars from London at all. Just take some sensible steps to reduce pollution (already falling rapidly of course) and reduce the congestion that they cause by some sensible traffic management measures.

Roger Lawson is the London Region Coordinator of the Association of British Drivers

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

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“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.


Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.


Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.


Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.



Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”


Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.


In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.