Existential truths

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 56.

Does the Cycling Campaign have a right to exist? This might seem a strange question when most of us would think the answer is self-evidently ‘yes’. Most councillors and officers are co-operative and sincere; even when they disagree with us, they are willing to engage in discussion. But, apparently, it is a question that a few councillors seem to think should be asked. We have heard remarks along the lines of ‘corrupting the democratic process,’ usually accompanied by snide remarks made behind our backs. Indeed, we have also been publicly told by a County Council officer that, because we are ‘activists,’ we should not be listened to. This is a Catch-22: the more you care about something, the less you will be taken notice of by those in power.

Quite how this is so, when we have no power in our own right, is puzzling. Quite why these councillors think that their electorates shouldn’t come together to lobby them is also puzzling. After all, what are political parties in the first place? If pressure groups should not exist, then logically all elected representatives should be independents. We also think it quite likely that the Cycling Campaign has more members than the local political parties. Is the problem that these particular councillors don’t like pressure groups (in which case, what business have they being councillors at all), or just don’t like cyclists?

It is striking how much weight is given to individual representations to the councils. We have seen many times how an individual approach (whether positive or negative from a cycling point of view) seems to galvanize action and sway opinion, when a detailed, considered response from the Cycling Campaign is widely ignored.

Perhaps there is a feeling in some quarters that the democratic process should be difficult. Well, whether or not it should be, it certainly is. If those in charge want something to happen, it will happen. If not, then democratic approaches rarely succeed. Some changes happen almost without trying, but in other cases immense amounts of effort are required to make even the tiniest of changes.

Maybe most mysterious of all is why there isn’t a serious motorists lobby group when so many motorists clearly feel passionately about their ‘right’ to go anywhere and do anything. The AA and, to some extent, the RAC take on this role, but they don’t have grass roots involvement and it is not why people join them. The motor lobby is clearly promoted by seriously rich companies from car manufacturers to oil interests but, again, whilst outrageously influential, they are not grass-roots groups. Only the Association of British Drivers, who most of us might consider the BNP of the transport scene, fits the bill and is tiny when compared with, for example, the CTC.

Enough philosophising. If councillors who take the view that the Cycling Campaign should not be allowed to exist, or officers who think we should not be listened to, would like to justify their position, we would like our members to hear it through these pages.

David Earl