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"A light-hearted joke": Labour shadow transport secretary addresses backlash over cycling comments

Louise Haigh has revisited her controversial comments about cycling, 20mph speed limits and low-traffic neighbourhoods, days after saying Rishi Sunak "demeaned himself" by suggesting Labour would pursue a war on motorists...

The shadow transport secretary and Labour Party MP for Sheffield Heeley, Louise Haigh, has addressed criticism from cyclists, campaigners and road safety figures that followed her interview comments about active travel policies, 20mph speed limits and low-traffic neighbourhoods.

Speaking to The Star, Haigh insisted that active travel is "essential for economic growth" and "every pound invested delivers a huge return in benefits", before outlining her stance that Labour "believes it is for local communities to decide" if active travel schemes are suitable, something the Conservatives and prime minister Rishi Sunak have wanted to "dictate to local communities".

"Active travel including cycling and walking is essential for economic growth and every pound invested delivers a huge return in benefits," she said. "The prime minister wants to dictate to local communities where they should and shouldn't have schemes that boost active travel. Labour believes it is for local communities to decide and Westminster should be there to support sensible decisions on boosting active travel, reducing congestion and improving communities."

> Cycling campaigners call for Labour to "demonstrate bravery" by making new homes plan active travel-focused, ditching "roads-only network" and reliance on cars

The comments follow on from her previous words on the issue, in which Haigh said the PM had "demeaned himself" by saying the Labour Party would pursue a war on motorists, argued many of the most-criticised councils that had implemented unpopular schemes were Conservative-run local authorities, and said that if elected there would be no Labour Party diktat that people should walk or cycle more.

Now, she also revisited her answer to the question about if she is a cyclist, to which Haigh originally replied, "God no, have you been to Sheffield?" Suggesting this was just "a light-hearted joke", the shadow transport secretary said it had more to do with her "being unfit and the size of Sheffield's hills".

The answer might not convince all of the critics, many of whom expressed disappointment at the fact the person potentially next to be tasked with heading the government on issues of transport is seemingly unaware of the benefits and accessibility boosts e-bikes can provide.

One reply to her original comments asked: "For god's sake can an e-bike manufacturer please make sure everyone in government or future government has actually tried one and found out for themselves how great they are and how cheap to run?"

> Rishi Sunak's 'Plan for Motorists' will "rob people of choice" and force them to drive, say cycling and walking campaigners

While Dr Robert Davis, the Chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum said "this would make Labour less responsible than [Boris] Johnson's government", another person sharing the original article said, with more than a touch of sarcasm, that it was "inspirational stuff from our next transport minister".

Leicestershire Loves Cycling, a campaign group for cycling in the county, added that nobody wants to force everyone to walk or cycle, just that walking and cycling should be enabled to be "the most attractive options for short journeys".

The outlook came as a disappointment to many hoping to see the poll-leading Labour Party take a big step away from the rhetoric of the current government, heard at last month's Conservative Party Conference as Rishi Sunak and transport secretary Mark Harper outlined a 'Plan for Motorists' to end the so-called war on motorists.

Rishi Sunak official portrait

Cycling UK accused the Tories of an "ill-fated attempt to win" votes with pro-motoring policies that would risk "undermining" active travel success after a party conference full of words promoting driving-friendly policies and a sparse outing for active travel.

A week later, to the backdrop of Labour's turn to host a conference, the cycling charity called for the party to "demonstrate bravery" by making its new homes plan active travel-focused, ditching "roads-only network" and reliance on cars.

"Labour has promised a decade of national renewal, including building 1.5 million new homes," Sarah McMonagle, director of external affairs at Cycling UK, said in a statement following Starmer's conference speech.

Sir Keir Starmer official portrait

"These new neighbourhoods will also need transport options fit for the future, not the roads-only network that typifies so many recent large housing developments, leaving people with no option but to rely on cars.

"These new homes must have excellent links to public transport, be close to the services people need, and designed and planned so that walking or cycling for short journeys are obvious, safe, and attractive options for most people. Planning permission shouldn't be granted without these elements designed in.

"But we needed to hear more from Louise Haigh about Labour's long-term plans for transport – in particular, taking into account the needs of people and families who don't have access to a car.

"Keir Starmer mentioned the need for bravery, and we now need Labour to demonstrate that bravery by setting out the party's plans for a transport future that gives more people real opportunities to walk or cycle short journeys. That's a far better way to tackle the cost-of-living and climate crises, but also to massively improve our health, wealth, and well-being."

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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49 comments

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Car Delenda Est | 3 months ago
0 likes

If local communities wanted to march their children off a cliff would that be the right choice?
Because that's what's happening right now..

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HarrogateSpa | 3 months ago
2 likes

Leaving it entirely up to local councils is not good policy.

In North Yorkshire we have an unmotivated and incompetent local authority, and we will never get any worthwhile improvements unless national government forces them to act.

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hawkinspeter replied to HarrogateSpa | 3 months ago
2 likes
HarrogateSpa wrote:

Leaving it entirely up to local councils is not good policy.

In North Yorkshire we have an unmotivated and incompetent local authority, and we will never get any worthwhile improvements unless national government forces them to act.

The other issue is that they all seem to choose their own random methods of lane segregation which causes problems with hard-to-see orcas etc. We should copy the best successful designs from other countries and make it a national standard. Letting councils just put in crap infrastructure which is then removed as it was poorly implemented, gives people the impression that cycle lanes are a problem, rather than the incompetence of the implementation.

However, that presupposes that the the national government is any more competent that local councils which is definitely up for debate.

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peted76 replied to HarrogateSpa | 3 months ago
2 likes
HarrogateSpa wrote:

Leaving it entirely up to local councils is not good policy.

In North Yorkshire we have an unmotivated and incompetent local authority, and we will never get any worthwhile improvements unless national government forces them to act.

In my experience, councils are filled with people who have no expectation or motivation other than to turn up, get through the day and leave. The rare ones who are motivated to make stuff happen soon get dejected by the difficulties in actually stuff done and generally either move on to another position, leave civil service into the private sector, or become resigned to the status quo. 

Plus.. there's not a coucil in the land with any free money or spare human resource to make changes, even IF they found the will to implement them. 

 

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Peowpeowpeowlasers | 3 months ago
2 likes

I don't know why people are surprised that a Labour MP doesn't cycle.  She's right, in a way - have you seen Sheffield?  It's fucking hell for cycling, hills or not.  It's a traffic sewer, like most other cities in the UK.

She's probably never used an e-bike, but even if she did - can anyone seriously expect someone who isn't into cycling, to ride on a city's roads, with the level of discomfort and danger that comes with it?

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chrisonabike replied to Peowpeowpeowlasers | 3 months ago
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Haven't been to Sheffield for a while but that goes for most of the UK.

From our current state you could say it's pointless to make positive comments about cycling as a politician.  You're unlikely to change the world during your term.  And given the popular view of cycling you're handing ammunition to *every* opponent.  After all who cycles?  Only those "others" - "cyclists"!  So a few athletes, entitled and aggressive MAMILs, criminal types or kids (but only in designated "safe" places).

Life's hard enough, can't you just make driving cheaper and easier?

The same might apply to criticising politicians' comments on cycling.  What will it change?

On the other hand if you think there's something of value to be had from mass cycling* we have somehow to break out of our transport vicious circle and into a virtuous one where we genuinely support active travel.  Support with more than warm words and 1 pound per person per year (though Wales and especially Scotland manage rather more).

* I'd suggest it's either "mass cycling" (including various e-things, likely) or no change.  (I don't think - outside of the odd metropolitan city - you can get a reduction in motor vehicle use without providing for an alternative kind of private personal transport).  I think would be a step change - a rather quick shift (a generation?) from one state to another.  After all our current environment is driveogenic and strongly self-reinforcing.  By mass cycling I mean a majority of the population cycling some trips - even if only occasionally.  That might amount to only e.g. 10 - 15% of all journeys but that would be a qualitative difference from where we are e.g. 1 - 2%.

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grOg replied to chrisonabike | 3 months ago
1 like

The reality with cycle commuting is that it requires a minimum level of fitness to ride, which excludes a lot of people, then there's the danger of cycling, which is not just being struck by a motor vehicle, but also just crashing for whatever reason; I suffered a significant knee injury falling off at 5 kph. 

Then there's the cost of ownership; buying and maintaining a bike; fixing or replacing it if it gets damaged or stolen.

Riding a bike for most is a fair weather thing; very few people would want to cycle in rain, wind or winter conditions; even high humidity makes cycling uncomfortable.

The idea of the western world replicating those Dutch cities that have radically changed road infrastructure to benefit cyclists is a fantasy, because even if the huge investment occurred, the vast majority of people that don't want to cycle will still not cycle; the only way to change that would be replicating what is happening with EV vs ICE; ie, banning the use of motor vehicles, thus forcing people to use a bicycle instead.

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chrisonabike replied to grOg | 3 months ago
4 likes

Bingo!

But people aren't fit enough to cycle (the disabled, the old)!  But cycling is dangerous!  But cycling is expensive (not compared to cars - which we buy and run already, or even buying bus tickets)!  But we have weather!  But people just don't want to cycle (apparently latent demand for cycling space in the UK - but I'll give you "won't or can't cycle very far" too)!

You're correct in so far that it is still a dream (for some).  And from the UK it can seem impossibly far from the current overall situation to that which exists in the Netherlands.  Never mind e.g. Australia or the US.

Not all journeys will or can be cycled.  However a large percentage of journeys we currently make could be cycled.  People in lots of countries who didn't cycle have started cycling when this was made to feel safe and convenient (and they saw others doing so...)  That can be done - not for free, but it's an order of magnitude or more cheaper than the cheapest motor vehicle infra.

When you say "The idea of the western world replicating those Dutch cities that have radically changed road infrastructure to benefit cyclists is a fantasy..." - are you indulging in fantasy yourself?  When was The Netherlands not part of the western world?  Or Denmark, or Sweden, or Finland, or Seville, or Cambridge or even parts of London (just about)?

On the other hand - the Netherlands is still a nation of long-distance commuters, car owners and is very car-friendly.  Perhaps you are seeing a myth there ("car free...")?

Also here in the UK we spend billions every year on road infrastructure (even hundreds of millions on potholes - literally pouring money into holes in the ground...)  Where I stay in Edinburgh we've happily spend a decade repeatedly digging up and relaying a major road or two at huge expense and vast disruption.  Many cities seem to be in a constant state of roadworks (there's a connecting road near me which has been out of action due to private works for over a year...).  So it's not like we don't have the cash or aren't used to the nuisance of change.

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chrisonabike replied to grOg | 3 months ago
3 likes

As for forcing people to use a bicycle - another view is a cost-benefit one.   So if cycling a journey is as or more convenient than driving it, people are likely to cycle.  (Of course - we're not starting from a level playing field in the UK - it's not quite a "free choice").

We have just made most journeys - even very short ones - seem more convenient to drive.

Of course - we are humans, not Vulcans or econs.  So you need to add constraints like feels safe (in several ways) or that it can be a social activity.  And of course humans are very concerned about status / how they appear to others.  So if where you are "cyclist" is synonymous with "bogan" or "ned" or "chav" then of course there is an image / advertising / role model issue to address also!

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Rendel Harris replied to grOg | 3 months ago
2 likes
grOg wrote:

The reality with cycle commuting is that it requires a minimum level of fitness to ride

Or a £300 ebike conversion kit - poor eyesight, inability to co-ordinate or balance issues are really the only physical barriers to bicycle transport now, and most people with balance issues can circumvent them with a tricycle. I have a friend who's still whizzing round his hilly part of London (Sydenham) on his ebike aged 91 and loving it.

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Left_is_for_Losers | 3 months ago
1 like

Sorry is this the LABOUR party we are talking about? On a site where 99% of the members are Labour? 

Wrong article road.cc, wrong article. You'll scare them off

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RDaneel replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 3 months ago
8 likes
Left_is_for_Losers wrote:

Sorry is this the LABOUR party we are talking about? On a site where 99% of the members are Labour? 

Wrong article road.cc, wrong article. You'll scare them off

It may come as a revelation to some but one is able to be a member of an organisation while being critical of certain aspects/utterances of said organisation. 

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Left_is_for_Losers replied to RDaneel | 3 months ago
1 like

Not for labour. If you are a woke lefty then you're meant to be all inclusive and embrace other peoples views. 

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ubercurmudgeon replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 3 months ago
6 likes

Didn't Woke Lefty have a hit in 1951 with "Always Late With Your Kisses"?

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hawkinspeter replied to ubercurmudgeon | 3 months ago
7 likes
ubercurmudgeon wrote:

Didn't Woke Lefty have a hit in 1951 with "Always Late With Your Kisses"?

I think that was "Save your missus for me"

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chrisonabike replied to ubercurmudgeon | 3 months ago
4 likes
ubercurmudgeon wrote:

Didn't Woke Lefty have a hit in 1951 with "Always Late With Your Kisses"?

Wasn't there another group (or the same) around in the seventies, with "Make Me Snarl (Come Up And See Me)"?

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grOg replied to ubercurmudgeon | 3 months ago
1 like

You are in a bit of a Frizzell..

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perce replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 3 months ago
5 likes

I'm a woke lefty but I can't embrace your views because you come across as a bit silly.

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Left_is_for_Losers replied to perce | 3 months ago
1 like
perce wrote:

I'm a woke lefty but I can't embrace your views because you come across as a bit silly.

You cant be a true woke lefty if you don't embrace silly views.

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chrisonabike replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 3 months ago
1 like
Left_is_for_Losers wrote:
perce wrote:

I'm a woke lefty but I can't embrace your views because you come across as a bit silly.

You cant be a true woke lefty if you don't embrace silly views.

Are you still a woke lefty if you silly-view-embracing expands to cover reactionary righty silly views?

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Left_is_for_Losers replied to chrisonabike | 3 months ago
1 like

I wouldn't know, as I'm not woke, but I understood it was inclusive so it doesn't matter. After all, it's all about being a nice person apparently so it shouldn't matter

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muhasib | 3 months ago
2 likes

Let's not overstress about the MP as it is her 5th shadow role since 2015 so it's not as if she'll be sticking around for long before moving on.

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Steve K replied to muhasib | 3 months ago
6 likes
muhasib wrote:

Let's not overstress about the MP as it is her 5th shadow role since 2015 so it's not as if she'll be sticking around for long before moving on.

An average tenure of 19 months would get her long-service awards compared with your average government Minister in recent years.  

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wycombewheeler replied to muhasib | 3 months ago
1 like
muhasib wrote:

Let's not overstress about the MP as it is her 5th shadow role since 2015 so it's not as if she'll be sticking around for long before moving on.

Prime Ministers during that time;

Cameron, May, Johnson, Truss, Sunak (5)

Seems to be just as stable in her roles as the government is in choosing a leader.

(If you google uk prime ministers, you might wonder if google have deliberately set out to make Sunak look short) 

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Rick_Rude | 3 months ago
2 likes

Doesn't matter what she says as Labour are currently unelectable.

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chrisonabike replied to Rick_Rude | 3 months ago
1 like
Rick_Rude wrote:

Doesn't matter what she says as Labour are currently unelectable.

Why?  They're somewhere in the middle and "moving towards the right", looking out for business and seeking "growth", staying out of Europe but all for the Union, cautious about immigration, on the side of the driver, making it up as they go along.  Isn't that the same as the current lot?

Or are you saying neither have it and it'll be a Lib Dem / Green / (whatever the fruitcakes became) coalition next?

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Steve K replied to Rick_Rude | 3 months ago
3 likes
Rick_Rude wrote:

Doesn't matter what she says as Labour are currently unelectable.

The average opinion poll position puts them on 44%, a 20 point lead over the Conservatives.

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essexian replied to Rick_Rude | 3 months ago
6 likes
Rick_Rude wrote:

Doesn't matter what she says as Labour are currently unelectable.

As a dyed in the wool socialist.... blimey I thought Mr Corbyn was a little too right wing for my liking, I regret that Mr Starmers party (I won't call them Labour as they are not), is electable. What they aren't however, is a party I could vote for given their drift to the right of centre.

I've heard nothing from Mr Starmer which leads me to believe he is offering change and improvements, just more of the same old, same old. Many of his ministers: made in his own image, have re-enforced this belief with stupid statements like the one mentioned above. 

 

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grOg replied to essexian | 3 months ago
0 likes

It would appear most regular commenters are ideologically left wing; why so? I conclude that they are into cycling because they are anti motor vehicles.

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hawkinspeter replied to grOg | 3 months ago
7 likes
grOg wrote:

It would appear most regular commenters are ideologically left wing; why so? I conclude that they are into cycling because they are anti motor vehicles.

Usually a love of cycling comes before a dislike of motor vehicles. Society normalises driving, so the general population don't consider whether lots of cars are good or bad as they just accept them as being the status quo. Pavement parking can disrupt that view as then, ordinary pedestrians get inconvenienced by cars blocking narrow pavements and often they re-evaluate why society prioritises driving above all else. It's not until someone gets experienced with cycling on roads that they begin to understand exactly how toxic the attitude of some drivers is and also the level of non-attention of a lot of drivers. It takes a cyclist to really spot all the drivers using their mobile phones whilst driving as cyclists need to be observant to anticipate danger.

As to cyclists being left wing, I presume that it's to do with the better connection between cyclists and their environment - we're not just viewing the world through a windscreen, like some kind of reality TV show. As people get a stronger connection with reality, they tend to become more left-wing as they can see how society is based on people working together and helping each other as opposed to the right-wing view of exploiting as many people as possible to enrich oneself.

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