Letter to the Editor

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 100.

Having just read Simon Nuttall’s article in Newsletter 99, I feel sheepish not to have supported him either at the monthly meeting where this was discussed (I was in London at the time), or in writing after the Yes or No article in the previous newsletter. If letter count is one measure of the level of support, then please put this one in the ‘for’ side of the weighing scales.

I remember raising this subject myself at meetings once or twice and getting nowhere. Good for Simon for keeping trying because I think he is quite right that the name is a real barrier for potential members. He’s also right that we ought to think big: ‘how do we get ten times as many members?’ is exactly the right sort of question to be asking.

‘How do we get ten times as many members?’ is exactly the right sort of question to be asking

As for the answer, I don’t think that name change on its own is sufficient, but I do think it is necessary to make a real breakthrough in membership numbers.

As it happens, I think Simon hit upon another part of the answer in passing: the reason why the AA and RAC have so many members is because of the breakdown service, not because they value the lobbying efforts. Indeed many (myself included) would prefer not to be deemed to be metaphorically standing behind Edmund King when he argues for lower fuel duty. But his lobbying power is undoubtedly increased by the 15 million people he says he represents. How many members do you think we could get if we were to offer a breakdown and recovery service for member cyclists within, say, a four-mile radius of Great St Mary’s? How much do you think they would be willing to pay for it? (I have tried to persuade Edmund King to offer this as a premium service to breakdown members – as does the AAA in Canada and a few American states – but to no avail.)

I suggest we conduct a poll of non-members to ask them: would you join if an organisation called x, y or z? And which of these benefits or services might you be interested in? And how much would you pay for them? Discussing amongst ourselves how we feel about the name is really missing the point. I think it is high time we looked beyond our own ranks because by only seeking views from within, we risk becoming very insular.

I certainly don’t want to demean the efforts of the few tireless campaigners – and I’m sure Simon doesn’t want to either – but let’s face it, they are only the few. It’s just that I know from dealing with ministers and mandarins that campaigners are tolerated whereas people with a vision are invited for tea. For example, Sustrans is trusted by the DfT with many mi££ions, whereas other more overt lobbyists have to fight hard for a fraction of the money or attention. Do you really believe that Sustrans doesn’t campaign? I feel sure that the same dynamic must apply at local level too.

With the best of intentions,

Paul Robison