Friday 21 September 2012

The Mitchellgate Affair

I suspect an element of fault on both sides here.  Andrew Mitchell MP, Government Chief Whip, is going to have to learn that he is a member of the establishment unless and until he takes to two wheels when he becomes a mere 'cyclist'.  The notion that he would be extended the same courtesy as if he were in a chauffeur driven motor car is just unrealistic.  He should have meekly got off his bicycle wheeled it along the pavement and through the gate and remounted.  I have done this fairly regularly at the request of a policeman though I always feel like rebelling.  Threatening to arrest Mr Mitchell (if true) does itself seem to me an unnecessary escalation.

Linking this to the awful double murder in Manchester, as the Sun newspaper does, is not in my view justified.  It would be quite wrong to associate those who question police action (or inaction), however impolitely, with the unspeakable evil that resulted in two dead police officers.

Mr Mitchesll MP, I am sure, deplores the unnecessary loss of human life.  It is news to me that he cycles - good on him.  but why has he not signed up to EDM 407 which reads

That this House notes that many victims of road accidents do not feel that the criminal justice system adequately protects or supports them in the aftermath of their case; further notes that it is important that those who have suffered traumatic incidents are given effective and sympathetic support as they attempt to rebuild their lives; welcomes the work of British Cycling and other groups, including CTC, Sustrans, London Cycling Campaign, The Times, Cycling Weekly, RoadPeace and Brake to raise the profile of the issue; and calls on the Ministry of Justice to review carefully the evidence they have submitted and undertake a comprehensive review of each part of the criminal justice system, from crash investigation standards through to sentencing guidelines, to ensure that it is fairer for cyclists, pedestrians and other road users who are hurt or seriously injured on the country's roads.

[NB: if I had drafted this I would have ensured it included reference to the relatives of those killed on the roads in line with the evidence submitted to the Ministry of Justice.  Still, its general import is clear].

If you are one of his constituents, perhaps you could ask him.


  1. I am told that it is generally frowned upon for ministers and other higher-ups to sign EDMs, no matter their views on the issue.

    1. Thanks. Something I did not know and am not sure I understand. My club is based in Maidenhead and most of my club-mates are constituents of Theresa May MP, so I suppose they were wasting their time writing to her then.

    2. My MP Tim Loughton (ex-Minister for Children) refuses to sign EDMs, intially because he was a Minister, and now because he thinks they're a waste of time. He was actually extremely rude to me when I asked once, saying that the situation in Syria was more important to him than the safety of children riding bicycles in the UK!

      So my MP refuses to make even a symbolic gesture (taking all of a few seconds) to benefit road safety for vulnerable road users on my behalf. I won't be voting for him again.

  2. Questioning a policeman who isn't treating you as a member of traffic whilst on a bike seems fair, verbally abusing* the policeman is not. (zero tolerance for abuse on all public services i believe)

    Being asked to use the side gate would annoy but then I've been allowed to ride through crash barriers in the car free zones outside party conferences before so not sure I could really complain about minor stuff like this.

    *as suggested by the report I read.

    1. I agree. I am certainly not condoning Mitchell's conduct and his apology suggests he acknowledges it was wrong. But if it is true the police threatened to arrest him I think that was an overreation. I am not convinced that it is any worse to abuse a public servant than someone working for a private company or someone not at work at all (or cycling down the street when you are fair game in the eyes of some police).

  3. "Andrew Mitchell MP... is going to have to learn that he is a member of the establishment unless and until he takes to two wheels... The notion that he would be extended the same courtesy as if he were in a chauffeur driven motor car is just unrealistic. "

    It's a shame he apologised really. Until that point I found myself warming to a conservative banker...

  4. As I understand the issue Andrew Mitchell has apologised to the officer involved for his words (what ever those words were) and this whole thing is being talked up mainly by the Police federation.

    It is worth bearing in mind that they probably have an agenda going on here all of their own. The Police Federation are less than pleased at the cuts being made in "their" public service and are keen and eager to find any stick with which to beat the Government.

    When Maggie was adopting her "slash and burn" economic policies in the 1980's she at least had the sense to square things with the Police first before relying on them to maintain the thin blue line during the miners strike and the periods of political unrest that followed.

  5. I also discovered, when I asked my MP Jeremy Hunt, also a cyclist (if perhaps only because it is the neatest way of escaping the reptiles when one is doorstepped during the Leveson enquiry) that only back-benchers sign EDMs. Neither ministers nor shadow minsters, at any level, sign them.

    I really do wish that people would stop dragging Mitchell’s bicycle into this. I have absolutely no doubt whatever that his bicycle or his status as a cyclist is totally irrelevant to this incident. I don’t imagine he rides one for the benefit of the environment or with an eye in cyclists’ rights, rather because it is practical and fast, and he is clearly not the nervous type. I don’t imagine for one second that he was dissing the coppers because he was offended that he would not allow a cyclist through the gates, more that his own self-importance got the better of him. I also suspect that there must have been some back story here to encourage the plod to take a stand in the belief – justified as it turned out – that they could ride out the storm. I suppose it might simply be security rules, or the mere imposition on an extra three policemen to open four gates when one would do, but I doubt it.

    In any case, a true London cyclist would be content to use the side gate – indeed would embrace the chance, to avoid the fuss and delay of waiting for the big gates to open. One of the compensations of cycling, against the getting wet, the abuse, and the heightened risk of harm, is the ability to filter, through a side gate, between bollards, around gridlocked traffic, and even to get off and push on a pavement or carry our bikes up a flight of steps where that is an advantage. Why on earth would be want to be seen as “vehicles”? I certainly don’t, I want to be recognised as not being a vehicle, and provided with decent separation from traffic and proper physical protection from the harm it causes.

    I don’t blame Mitchell for the Telegraph and Mirror permitting their most mediocre hacks to use the incident to spout poisonous, puerile drivel about lycra louts and being “nearly” killed by a passing (sic) cyclist, but equally I don’t want to see him associated with the supporting case either.

    1. Quite agree about bicycles being "vehicles" in the eyes of the law. That may well have made sense back in the 1890s before cars were around, and when other vehicles had similar maximum speeds, but these days it's a definition that causes many more problems than it solves.

      A person on a bicycle is not a pedestrian, and they should not be lumped in with all other "vehicles" either, they should have their own category and facilities. Just like they do in the country with the best record for non-motorised road user safety in the world.