Lib Dem villain of the month: Annette Brooke

There’s a sentence I never predicted that I would write. Still, what else would you call an MP who is proposing a bill that would criminalise valid parenting choices solely in order to suppress environmentally friendly and healthy travel options?

Her new Private Member’s Bill- the Cycles (Protective Headgear for Children) Bill- will make it mandatory for children under 14 to wear cycle helmets when cycling on roads and in open spaces.

If I somehow became responsible for a child under 14 who was learning to ride a bike, I would try and get them to wear a helmet. If there’s one thing a helmet is good for, it’s for people who aren’t steady on two wheels and might be expected to fall off. But that would be my choice. We already have two paternalistic parties in this country: we don’t need Liberal Democrats joining in the game of who can interfere most in private decisions.

Ms. Brooke: parents do not need your help to raise their children responsibly. I say this in the nicest possible way, but please do fuck off.

The main, perhaps only, effect this bill would have would be to stop children cycling.

Going out on our streets is not an extreme sport.

In fact, it’s not legally required for you to wear a helmet while actually doing extreme sports, like skateboarding or parkour stunts. I can’t think of any other area of civilian life where the Government intervenes to force you legally to wear protective padding.

So if you make cycling out to be one of the most dangerous things a person can do, how will that encourage people to take it up? If the Government made it compulsory to wear Kevlar body armour to visit, say, Glasgow, do you think a) more, or b) fewer people would visit the city?

This will reduce the number of children cycling. And if children don’t learn to love cycling we can expect that when those children are adults, even fewer of them will choose to make healthy and environmentally-friendly travel choices.

Cycling is not dangerous. To the extent that it is dangerous, it’s the fault of bad drivers, negligent traffic police, and poor municipal traffic planners. Maybe Ms. Brook could have used her incredibly precious opportunity to sponsor a Private Member’s Bill to tackle that.

At this point, I would like to pronounce my Lib Dem heroes of the month: Firstly, sir Alan Beith, who has used his Private Members Bill to tackle blind spots on lorries.

Secondly, Julian Huppert, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentarty Cycling Group, who said of Ms. Brooke’s plan: “The Lib Dem transport team disagrees with her. I’ve tried to persuade her! Lib Dem (& coalition) policy is not to have compulsory helmets.”

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm  Comments (5)  

Resisting the lure of protectionism

I’m living in Derby at the moment, so have been particularly conscious of the news that new carriages for Thameslink will be built by German firm Siemens rather than local firm Bombardier. Well, I say local. German/Canadian, actually, as if you couldn’t tell by the rum foreign way everyone pronounces it. Still, it means the loss of 446 permanent jobs and 983 temporary contract staff, which is sad for a city that’s already struggling.

What has been still sadder, though, is the protectionist rhetoric that the decision has prompted.

Bob Crow and the RMT today announced that they are considering a legal challenge to the decision. The general response from the popular press has been to demand British jobs for British people. Local Labour MPs Chris Williamson and Margaret Beckett have been doing the same. Which I suppose is fair enough– they could hardly be expected to do otherwise. But the Shadow Cabinet have also jumped on the protectionist bandwagon, which is the height of irresponsibility from the Labour Party.

Most of the Tory argument has been evasive – just noting that the previous Labour Government wrote the tender rules and are technically responsible, and noting that Labour also left the incoming Government with a project 16 years overdue and £600 million over budget. Fair enough, but good on Philip Hammond for also making the point of principle in the House: “I firmly believe that free trade and open markets are the best way for us to proceed.”

Shirley Williams was a hero on Question Time last week, making the case for Free Trade:

“I’m going to say something very unpopular: think very hard before you go for protectionism. We have thousands of people in this country who work for German firms, French firms, Japanese firms, and they have on the continent thousands of people who work for British firms. If you want to start down this train, I’ll tell you exactly what will happen: you will lose at least as many jobs as you’ll gain. If you bring in protectionism, you’ll see the 1930s back again.”

The World Depression was caused and exacerbated by protectionist policies.

We need world trade- free trade. It will be vital to the country and the world’s economic recovery.

If you’ve ridden the railway in South Africa recently, you may have been on a train manufactured at the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works. Likewise if you’ve been to Taiwan. If you’ve traveled on a high-speed train in Switzerland, Italy, or China, ridden the light rail in Madrid or Melbourne, been on the Metro in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, or a tram in Strasbourg or Milan, it may have been one of those designed by one of the hundreds of design engineers employed at the Derby plant.

Which is to say, British manufacturing relies on exports as well as the home market. What would have happened in Derby if the government in Pretoria had demanded on a policy of South African jobs for South Africans?

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 12:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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