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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

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to grOg | 4 months ago
2 likes

Left wingers ahoy! (Possibly stealing bicycles from the Dutch here?)

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perce replied to grOg | 4 months ago
0 likes

Boy George is in panto this year.

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hawkinspeter replied to perce | 4 months ago
3 likes

perce wrote:

Boy George is in panto this year.

Oh no he isn't!

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to hawkinspeter | 4 months ago
2 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

perce wrote:

Boy George is in panto this year.

Oh no he isn't!

My reaction is more, "Oh no, he isn't?"

Avatar
mark1a replied to Rendel Harris | 4 months ago
2 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

hawkinspeter wrote:

perce wrote:

Boy George is in panto this year.

Oh no he isn't!

My reaction is more, "Oh no, he isn't?"

BEHIND YOU!!!!

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eburtthebike | 4 months ago
8 likes

There is only one party committed to Active Travel: the Greens, and I'm proud to be a member.

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wycombewheeler replied to eburtthebike | 4 months ago
0 likes

eburtthebike wrote:

There is only one party committed to Active Travel: the Greens, and I'm proud to be a member.

maybe, but with only 2.7% of the vote, compared to the woeful incumbant with 45% of the vote in my constituency, just not a viable option.

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hawkinspeter replied to wycombewheeler | 4 months ago
1 like

wycombewheeler wrote:

maybe, but with only 2.7% of the vote, compared to the woeful incumbant with 45% of the vote in my constituency, just not a viable option.

Whilst I'd agree that the priority has to be getting rid of the Tories before they do too much more damage, voting Green at least sends the message that other parties aren't representing our concerns.

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brooksby replied to hawkinspeter | 4 months ago
0 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

Whilst I'd agree that the priority has to be getting rid of the Tories before they do too much more damage

I think that ship has sailed, Peter. If the Tories don't get re-elected then whoever follows will find it very difficult to undo the mess they've made, all while they are sat there in opposition saying,"Look at the state of the country! What a mess- it's shameful". I mean, they're doing it now saying they're the only party that can undo the mess the country's in, ignoring that it's in the state it's in because they've been running it (gutting it?)  for the last thirteen years.

 

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hawkinspeter replied to brooksby | 4 months ago
3 likes

brooksby wrote:

I think that ship has sailed, Peter. If the Tories don't get re-elected then whoever follows will find it very difficult to undo the mess they've made, all while they are sat there in opposition saying,"Look at the state of the country! What a mess- it's shameful". I mean, they're doing it now saying they're the only party that can undo the mess the country's in, ignoring that it's in the state it's in because they've been running it (gutting it?)  for the last thirteen years.

The best time to get rid of the Tories was ten years ago, but the next best time to get rid of them is now

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brooksby | 4 months ago
3 likes

It's almost as if nobody briefed her on how to carefully make public statements.

It seems like best practice would be not make any jokes about something that falls under her remit, perhaps?

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Secret_squirrel | 4 months ago
3 likes

For Gods sake, can we all just stop jumping on every little utterance from opposition politicians as if it were gospel.   Whether they are MP's or councillors their until they are actually in power or we are deep into an election their opinions count for Sweet FA.

Stop looking for conflict.  This isnt the Daily Heil.

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chrisonabike replied to Secret_squirrel | 4 months ago
5 likes

Secret_squirrel wrote:

Stop looking for conflict.  This isnt the Daily Heil.

Worse - it's an internet forum!

But I think a "calm down" message is generally appropriate today!

Proposals made now are no guarantee of what the next government - whatever it is - will do.  However I do think they're indicative of attitudes / trends.  So we see that the Conservatives are at least keen to court the "let's just make driving easier" vote for now.  Also that Labour are not going to be much less clueless / weak about supporting active travel.

But then no party looks serious on this issue - possible exception of the Greens*.

* Welsh Labour did at least manage to reduce default built up area speeds and say they'll look not to build new roads 20s.  Time ago the SNP managed to declare a more sensible budget for active travel although the delivery of that has been more questionable.

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FionaJJ replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago
8 likes

I've not seen the full extent of the reaction, and I'm sure some did over-react, but it's still reasonable to be disappointed that she thought it appropriate to make a joke about it, and her retrospective explanation doesn't make it OK.

One of the biggest challenges facing cycling and getting in the way of good cycling infrastructure is perpetuated by the idea that cycling is a niche activity, only suited to the super-fit and extreme cycling fans, and it's hilarious to think that an ordinary person might do it.

It's clear she's not serious about supporting cycling, or understands the value of everyone having the opportunity to do so if their circumstances allow. I believe in localism, and some aspects of traffic management, including cycling infrastructure should be locally led. However, even the most keen localist is OK having national minimum standards for new homes for all sorts of things, including roads. So why not for cycling?

I recognise that a big part of politics is about getting elected, and that means avoiding giving your opponents ammunition. Opposition politicians are right to be mindful that their statements will be used and abused by certain parts of the press to imply they hate motorists. Haigh was clearly in defensive mode when she made the ill-judged joke. However, it doesn't hurt to remind someone in her position that the cycling community exists too.

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grOg replied to FionaJJ | 4 months ago
2 likes

Cycling community? what's that? I cycle commute because it's cheap and convenient for me; I'm not part of a cycling tribe, any more than I'm part of a motoring tribe when I drive my motor vehicle.

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chrisonabike replied to grOg | 4 months ago
1 like
grOg wrote:

Cycling community? what's that? I cycle commute because it's cheap and convenient for me; I'm not part of a cycling tribe, any more than I'm part of a motoring tribe when I drive my motor vehicle.

You're right there! There is no "us".

However... in many countries you won't be seen as just some person using a bike at that moment. In the eyes of many you'll become a "cyclist" - possible one of those bloody cyclists - and various stereotypes will be raised.

That would be just normal human behavior of course - except it derails our ability to have sensible conversations about our transport systems, public spaces and even health. That in turn reflects on what our politicians think will sell them in the eyes of the electorate and thus our direction of travel.

(On the positive side there is more than just "shared interest" if you are practicing a minority activity and have to endure misunderstanding, nuisance or even violence. That *may* help form community with others in your situation).

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Rendel Harris replied to Secret_squirrel | 4 months ago
4 likes

Yes, it was pretty clear that it was a light-hearted joke from the start – like most politicians, if she really meant something she wouldn't say it!

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Adam Sutton replied to Secret_squirrel | 4 months ago
0 likes
Secret_squirrel wrote:

For Gods sake, can we all just stop jumping on every little utterance from opposition politicians as if it were gospel.   Whether they are MP's or councillors their until they are actually in power or we are deep into an election their opinions count for Sweet FA.

Stop looking for conflict.  This isnt the Daily Heil.

But that's the backbone of this place 🤷‍♂️

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to Secret_squirrel | 4 months ago
3 likes

Secret_squirrel wrote:

For Gods sake, can we all just stop jumping on every little utterance from opposition politicians as if it were gospel.   Whether they are MP's or councillors their until they are actually in power or we are deep into an election their opinions count for Sweet FA.

Stop looking for conflict.  This isnt the Daily Heil.

Well I welcome road.cc reporting when various politicians make statements about active travel. It was of note because despite being the "opposition", they seemed to be echoing the Tories. It's only right that stupid policies/statements are criticised so that maybe they might think before opening their mouths in future.

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