Boris Johnson: the cycling Mayor with red and blue blood on his hands

The response of the Mayor of London to the death of Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, who was riding a Boris Bike on one of his so-called Cycle Superhighways exposes the true extent of his shortcomings.  Boris Johnson said the key to tackling the cycling dangers is for “safety in numbers”.  This is a dangerous myth.  Whilst more cyclists on our roads will marginally encourage motorists to keep an eye out for them, it shows a contemptible lack of vision or action. It’s a shrug-your-shoulders approach.

There has been a distinct rise in the number of cyclists in inner and central London, and safety in numbers might help at rush hour. But out of those times and the further away from the centre of London you cycle, the fewer cyclists you will encounter, especially in the car-dominated suburbs.

I regularly cycle around Croydon, Streatham, Clapham and Brixton. Sometimes I can cycle for 2 or 3 miles and not see one other cyclist en route, especially going into Croydon.  That shows that the feeble impact of the cycling `revolution’ which is not filtering down to the suburbs. And the reason is because most people do not feel safe on two wheels as they mix with impatient and easily distracted motorists.

Elephant And Castle

Elephant And Castle (Photo credit: nicksarebi)

Boris Johnson’s previous comments insisting that it is safe to cycle on busy roads providing you “man up” and “keep your wits about you” – for example when tackling the notorious Elephant & Castle roundabout – reveal his shockingly negligent attitude. He might be an experienced cyclist, but for a cycling `revolution’ it must be safe for older children and adults of all ages to ride a bike. That clearly is not the case today, despite the irony of London having a cycling Mayor.

London v Amsterdam

This is the Mayor who claims he would make cycling in London “better than Amsterdam”.  At 2% of journeys made by bicycle across Greater London we have hardly begun to scratch the surface. As someone who has regularly cycled in Amsterdam and across the Netherlands I can confirm that this claim is PR soundbite `wiff waff’. He ping pongs on the issue of safety because HE isn’t prepared to `man up’ and take the decisive action desperately needed to protect cyclists (and pedestrians for that matter).  The reason is his libertarian political philosophy. Boris could not possibly do anything that hinders the rights of the motorist or that does not prioritising keeping London’s traffic flowing.

A splash of blue paint (which fades in colour to a dirty grey thanks to oil from all the passing vehicles) is a pathetic quick fix. I was quite hopefully before Boris opened CS 7 from Tooting to the City. At last, something local-ish. But there are some white-knuckle death traps along CS7 such as near Clapham Common station and around Oval. And yet when Boris is called to account on cycle safety, he only offers waffle and promises of jam tomorrow. More traffic jams, rather than decent and safe infrastructure.

English: Colliers Wood, London

English: Colliers Wood, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boris wants his cake and eat it

What we are witnessing is a pathetic resignation and abdication of responsibility from the Mayor to protect Londoners. Typically Boris wants his cake and eat it. He encourages everyone to cycle despite failing to make cycling safer. Equally, he maintains that cars deserve to be able to speed along unhindered. Traffic flow, as Boris frequently says, must not be impaired.

But keeping the traffic flowing with fast vehicles and only a bit of blue paint for protection is a recipe for disaster. And don’t forget the recent study showing the dangers of pollution on main roads as London continues to have the worst pollution of any capital city in Europe, regularly breaching EU limits.

Holland in the 1970s

If you click on the link you will see a short video of footage from 1970 in Holland and how they invested in cycle infrastructure. In the 1970s the Netherlands was where we are now. They had the same problems as us. Roads full of traffic – a chaotic and dangerous environment for cyclists. Then they boosted public transport (especially reliable fast trams and trains), blocked certain roads to cars and built high-quality often segregated cycle routes.

Those who say London’s streets do not have the space for bikes have obviously never been to Amsterdam or the Netherlands. Some of their roads are equally as narrow and yet they bravely reduced space for cars and provided an excellent, affordable public transport network. The result? Fewer cars, cleaner air, more people walking and cycling – and a fitter nation.

Irresponsible media commentators

In London and Britain, part of the problem has been years of talk show radio presenters and columnists in the tabloids demonising cyclists. Those commentators may not realise it, but the drip-drip effect of motorists having their prejudices reinforced by endless complaints about bad cyclists jumping red lights, weaving in and out of the traffic only adds to motorists’ sense of entitlement and places them at the top of the pecking order.

It kills any emotional awareness that drivers would ordinarily have to their fellow human beings. It encourages drivers to be more like the Michael Shumacher of old, rather than my mantra of driving considerately `like a Buddhist’.

Aim High, Go Dutch

The goal should be for it to be safe for 8-to-80 year olds to ride a bike.  At the moment cycling is general the preserve of young, fit and brave men. Less super fit people like myself are in the minority.

To achieve this, sacrifices have to be made. The main cycle superhighways could be converted and improved for the fitness fanatics, but for the rest of us the London Cycle Network of quieter almost traffic-free back street routes needs a huge upgraded. Currently too many are used as rat runs by impatient drivers and can be intimidating. Local authorities such as Croydon who refuse to take cycle safety seriously are part of the problem.

So Boris Johnson’s answer to the death of a cyclist using his superhighway on a hire bike is appallingly dangerous. Cycle superhighways are a joke for anyone who has seen how cycling has flourished across the North Sea. It is painful to hear him talk up cycling whilst failing to take bold and visionary steps as seen in Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, should know better

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, should know better

If only Boris would stop talking Double Dutch, but instead just Go Dutch.

Shut up Mandy! High Speed Rail should be speeded up, not ditched.

Despite Peter Mandelson’s U-turn over High Speed 2, we need it now more than ever. Mandy – criticised for seeing the world only out of a private jet window – ponders that Britain can make do with a network developed by our Victorian forefathers.

English: Peter Mandelson speaking at the Polic...

English: Peter Mandelson speaking at the Policy Network’s Politics of Climate Change event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Grand Lord of Davos appears content for us to sit on the sidelines and watch the rest of the world pull away at 300mph. Not for Britain the slick speedy network already enjoyed in Japan, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
The rest of the world is moving on – in exactly the same way as we were a century or so ago.  The best countries have high speed trains linking their major cities – and then within those cities they often have a top-notch network of underground and tram routes to whizz you relatively seamlessly across the city. That could be our future, if only we have the vision.

If it’s good enough for the French and Germans, then it’s good enough for us. It amazes me that with so many Brits going on regular holidays to France, Germany and the Netherlands, they fail to see or learn from the best innovations in those countries. I can only assume most people are continuously drunk or high on drugs – or spend their whole time with their head buried in a tourist map. I wish they would open their eyes.

Beware the NIMBYs

Admittedly HS2 is not a complete utopia. There are drawbacks. I have some sympathy with those concerned about the negative impact on the environment such as ancient woodlands. But many arguments against HS2 are often motivated by people who are more concerned about preserving the pricey view from their gardens, rather than prioritising the essential need of the nation.
We are a small country and we don’t need it, say opponents. They suggest we could  put the money into the existing network. But most of our railways were built by the Victorians. Yes, the existing network needs an upgrade, but to manage rising demand, cut road congestion and send a message to the world that we are still in the game, HS2 is a no-brainer.
Without high speed, visitors to UKplc will face a visible sign of our decline as we fail to keep up with cutting-edge progress. We invented the railways, for God’s sake. Time for the next generation.

Germany's High Speed ICE train (Photo: Wikipedia)

Germany’s High Speed ICE train (Photo: Wikipedia)

Full steam ahead?

HS2 will lead to more jobs and faster journey times to the north. It’s one temporary `blot on the landscape’ during construction that will be worth it, provided people affected along the route are handsomely compensated and environmental damange mitigated. With its fast and greener credentials it contrasts with the blight that will follow the inevitable rise in pollution and traffic jams as the Government embarks on yet more plans for road building.
The main debate should focus on this project’s snail-like timescale. Will northern cities like Leeds and Manchester have to wait until at least 2032 before phase 2 is completed? That seems ridiculous.

If HS2 is ditched, we might as well unplug our railways from the national grid and bring back mothballed steam trains for all our services.  At least we’ll be honest and show how we are no longer at the forefront of developments in technology and engineering – and are content for Mandy and his friends to lord it up, whilst the rest of us chug along in `cattle class’.

A pay rise for MPs? The problem isn’t their pay, it’s where they come from that counts.

Palace of Westminster.

Palace of Westminster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MPs deserve more. With living standards squeezed, and spending cuts on essential public services deepening, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) recommends an inflation-busting 15% pay rise. MPs expenses will reduce and their contribution to their pensions will rise.
However, at a time of austerity as those on the right-wing rub their hands in glee at the vision of a smaller State, it’s time to face up to one big reality.

For democracy to function our MPs must represent us all. All classes, creeds, colours. But there are too few MPs who are women, or from an ethnic background or with a disability. And MPs from a working class background are now almost extinct. Welcome to the modern parliamentary clone or should that be clown? Mostly cut from the same cloth. Men who are white, middle class and from the political elite. This is fundamentally wrong.

Who cares about class?

As a sledge-hammer is taken to services that the poorest rely on the most, seeing only posh boys and a few posh girls in the House of Commons risks increasing cynicism and apathy towards an `out of touch’ Westminster. Politics has become the preserve of the better off and educated. The working class MPs who played such a crucial role in improving standards for the poor in the 20th century have all but disappeared.
Where are the candidates who have experience of having at some time been skint or jobless? Without insight into being on the wrong side of the tracks, it is no surprise our politicians are happy to support cuts to public services over a genuine clampdown on tax evasion or increasing taxes for the better off.

Class war

Some of you will think I’m harping back to the class war of the 1970s. I’m not. I’m merely highlighting the fact that there’s been a shift away from poorer communities being represented by people who properly understand them.  It’s an issue that even some Tories are worried about. Take, for example, Denis Skinner. He is often demonised and branded a Dinosaur and was recently told to take his pension by David Cameron during PMQs.
Big business and landowners already have more than their fair share of MPs who know what they want. The Tories and increasingly Labour are seen as being too middle class. This partly explains why fringe parties such as UKIP and the BNP have had minor surges in support as the public wash their hands of the two main parties who fail to represent them.

How has this happened?

The collapse in the number of MPs from traditional working class backgrounds followed Margaret Thatcher’s decimation of industry and attack on the power of the unions. The traditional route for people from poorer/manual work backgrounds has effectively been neutered. Today’s politicians come from a shrinking pool of the middle class, political elite.
Even the Daily Mail warns that working class MPs are becoming an endangered species. According to the House of Commons library, the number has dropped a staggering 75 per cent since 1979 to only 25 MPs, the majority of them Labour.

Because MPs are worth it

So if I’m asked if my MP is worth a pay rise, I will probably say yes. It’s a tough job to do well. If MPs are paid a pittance then even fewer people from poorer backgrounds will be able to afford to put themselves forward. That’s partly why the political system in the USA is so ineffective.
Better pay for MPs will help eradicate the cries of “we don’t get paid enough’ to justify all those extra cosy director positions that make some MPs a nice little earner, at the expense of doing a full time job for their constituency.

But if we fail to deal with the bigger problem of MPs almost exclusively coming from a small prosperous clique, we will be in danger of turning our once-cherished democracy into an Victorian oligarchy with Government by the few, for the few.

Stephen Lawrence: cover up, smear campaign and the potential backlash

Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence (Photo credit: 4WardEver UK)

Having lost a talented son in a despicable racist murder, the Lawrence family should have been able to assume that the police would be deployed to hunt down the killers and give the family the support they desperately needed. Losing a child is, after all, every parent’s worst nightmare. Losing a son in a racist attack must be even more painful with its hateful overtones and echoes of past injustice.

As if `institutional racism’ in the Met was not bad enough, we now have allegations from an undercover policeman that he took part in an operation to dig for dirt on the very people whose lives had been torn apart. I would expect these gutter tactics in a corrupt and dysfunctional country far from these shores, but not in what the pompous elite complacently claim to be the world’s best democracy, a nation renowned for its fair play.

Rotten apples

I have always felt a deep sense of sadness when reporting on this story as a journalist. It reflects so badly on our society. It exposes an undercurrent of racist beliefs and sheds light on appalling police practises back in the early 1990s.

And whilst I won’t be popular for saying this, today I also feel sorry for all those decent and fair police officers. We need a police service we can trust. As a white man it is difficult for me to see things through the eyes of someone of colour.  But I do believe the police are trying to become more representative, even if that process is ridiculously slow.

Speak to an African or Arabs who have moved here and they will often praise our police compared to their experiences `back home’ or the flagrant racism found in countries like France or Greece. There will always be bad apples in any organisation. The few times I have needed the police over the past decade I’ve found them to be overworked but generally professional. They think less like a `force’ and more like social workers acting pragmatically. But that’s of little comfort to Stephen Lawrence’s family, friends and supporters.  And sentiment alone will not root out corruption and malpractice in the police.

Visions of `Rodney King’

Apparently back in the late 1990s during Sir William Macpherson’s public enquiry into the bungled murder investigation, senior officers were too fearful to come clean about the undercover operation as they had visions of `Rodney King` riots on the streets of London.

English: London

English: London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A quarter of all 16-24 year olds in London are officially recorded as unemployed and claiming benefits. In some parts of the capital a far higher proportion will be `economically inactive’ and below the radar, many of them black or Asian. Living a life with no hope and rudderless is a recipe for disaster. It’s a volcanic wound waiting to explode. The riots in August 2011 should have been a wake-up call.

Ticking time bomb

I long for a decent, harmonious and more equal society. Many black and ethnic minority people fear or loathe the police. Many, especially the more successful, don’t have issues with them.
But in the poorest communities, who are being disproportionately affected by the swingeing cuts and rising unemployment, this story could become a tipping point.

A secret campaign to discredit the Lawrence family in their hour of need will only serve to reinforce anger among those who believe the police and society are against them.

Is celebrity gossip on news websites a dangerous `opium of the masses’?

A new report confirms what many of us in the media have suspected for years. When browsing news websites more people are hooked on what the rich and famous are up to and on sensational crime stories and not news about politics or the economy.

Readers are more likely to click-through to stories that use more tabloid and subjective language, rather than the accurate but less juicy BBC-style of reporting.  Winners include celebrity, crime, fashion, entertainment, disasters and weather stories.  But business, economics and politics all prove to be far less popular.  Sex and celebrity sells.

Kim Kardashin at "Style Your Sim" fa...

Kim Kardashin at “Style Your Sim” fashion show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Column of Shame

I have an insatiable appetite for news and regularly scan websites including BBC, Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror and Evening Standard.  I’ll also check Reddit and Digg if there’s time. Mail Online is one the most successful, but I never really noticed until recently the website’s right hand column: the Sidebar of Shame. It’s almost entirely celebrity gossip.

Today it reports, for example, that Kim Kardashian has banned sweets from her bedside as she begins her post baby weight lost programme. Wow. I really needed to know that? Clearly for many people they do and in some ways I can understand why.  Gossip has always made the world go round.

A gift to the corrupt and self-serving

If I was a conspiracy theorist, it would be easy to believe that the powers-that-be are quite glad for us to gorge on celeb gossip rather than holding politicians and big business to account.  Let them eat cake, or at least celebrity news and that way the public will be nice and docile. It will be easier to sweep things under the carpet or avoid taking the step necessary to improve life for the majority, not just the few.

Britain has the longest working hours in Europe.  I suspect we treat the few moments we get to log on and see what’s going on the world as an escape away from the daily duties and lists of things to do. Maybe most people simply do not care about `real’ news. Is this harmless? Well today it may not seem that way. But as a trend it could be worrying.

I don’t want to sound holier-than-thou on this subject. The Daily Mail is extremely well written and knows how to pander to its readers’ prejudices by the bucket load. I like reading about a bit of scandal, but an endless diet of celebs and disasters is a bit too McNews for me. Whilst it clearly pulls in the readers, I fear in the long run it could be a slippery slope, which the powerful will be happy to exploit.

The Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster (Photo credit: Alexis Birkill)

A damaging distraction

Maybe our celebrity obsession has always existed, but with the rise of online we can now indulge ourselves as never before. Celebrity is a nice little distraction. It’s now the religion of choice for some, but it won’t help encourage leaders to improve job opportunities, education, health, transport or the environment.

On the surface our obsession with the sensationalism and celebrities seems innocent. Of course, there’s a place for celebrity news. But in the wrong hands, it’s a gift for those who hold the reins of power. It enables them to quietly maintain the status quo. It allows them to slip through and make changes that suit only them. And the danger is that once we finally realise what they have done, it will be too late or too difficult to turn the clock back, but at least we now know what Kim Kardashian is eating for breakfast.

Flying high on Streatham Common Kite Day

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STREATHAM COMMON KITE DAY 16 JUNE 2013

Colour punctuated the skies above south London for the 15th annual Streatham Common Kite Day.

Thousands of spectators, along with professional and amateur kite flyers, were rewarded as the rain cleared for most of the afternoon. Enthusiasts wowed onlookers with their skill and technique on a day that is now a firm favourite in the calendar. The original event in April was postponed as Streatham Common was too waterlogged following a wet winter that felt as if it was never going to end. This was payback time.

There were moments when you could easily forget you were in Streatham, on the borders of Lambeth and Croydon boroughs: a vast open green space, thrilling and inspiring kite teams with balletic displays set to music as their kites twisted and swooped, rapidly turned and soared up again towards the sky.  Special praise to Team Spectrum and Cascade Kite Displays who dazzled me, along with the Indian kite team whose performance was set to evocative Indian sitar music. A particular favourite of mine!

Click on photos to open the Streatham Common Kite Day 2013 gallery:

On cloud nine

There were dozens of stalls with everything from Windrush Kites selling all you need to get kite flying, to Pets as Therapy dogs – who had the busiest  stall all day! And the Streatham Society, a must for local history buffs. Top marks also to the man on PA system who set the tone perfectly, despite the challenge of having to call for parents of lost children at an alarmingly high rate.

The relaxed atmosphere was particularly striking. The day had the feel of an English country fair, but with a modern rich mix of cultures. All creeds, all races and all classes mixing in and sharing a very special moment.

If only every day was Streatham Common Kite Day

At a time of austerity with community events vanishing into thin air, this was the perfect antidote, bringing people together. In a city where we are often accused of `living apart together’, this event helped restore faith in the best of humanity.

Free community events – open to all – like Streatham Common Kite Day help bind us together and allow us, for one special day, to reach for the skies.

Spit or split? `Sarf’ London is not as bad as you think

Where’s best: South London or North London?

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It amuses me when meeting new people and sussing out which side of the tracks (or should that be River Thames?) they live on. Mention that you are from Sarf London, and you’ll either be greeted with sympathy or if you’re lucky a knowing smile followed by a chat about the pros and cons, and swapping details of the best local hangouts and restaurants.

South London has always been the butt of jokes, but most of us here don’t care. We accept that it might not be fashionable in the eyes of the Hampstead or Notting Hill set.  I know a few people who have rarely gone south in their entire lives. `It’s a wasteland with little to do!’ or `what is in south London apart from Croydon’s IKEA?’
Actually, it’s not such a clear-cut issue.

We have many `desirable’ areas like Clapham, Dulwich, Wimbledon, Richmond, and there are leafy parts, believe it or not, even in Croydon.  And the less opulent areas still benefit from having that little extra space with fewer humans to bump into compared to the hustle and bustle of life north of the river.

List of public art in Lambeth

Clapham Common

South Londoners will admit that compared to our cousins `in town’ there is less to do and see. We don’t have the volume of cool and hip venues. But at least we have space. There are fewer tourists getting in the way and more parks and commons (Wimbledon, Streatham, Tooting and Greenwich to name but a few) to enjoy on the rare occasion the sun shines. It is less densely populated and visually greener. And there’s no airport, such as Heathrow or City, with its extra traffic. Our roads suffered less from the 1960s rush for fast inner city motorways and huge flyovers:  compare our quainter South Circular to the monolithic North Circular dominating the sky line.

A few facts

The blue patches represent areas of higher poverty

The darker patches represent areas of higher poverty

Despite south London’s reputation, it is worth noting that according to latest figures six of the most deprived boroughs in the country (Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Islington, Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham) are north of the river. In fact the first appearance anywhere south is at number 29 in the rankings with Greenwich. And contrary to popular opinion, Croydon is quite well off and way down the rankings. Even within the more shabby areas, parts of south London are becoming gentrified with house prices and rents rising fast. Twenty years ago, if someone had told me Balham would have a Waitrose and effectively be Clapham South South, I’d have called them a naive optimist.

I recently had someone tell me “who wants to live on a train line when you can have the tube?” Yes, the London Underground is fantastic and regular. But apart from a few tube lines, most of us travel on overland trains. We can look out the window and see life and trees, instead of looking at a dark brick wall for the majority of the journey.  And for pockets of south west London we have a taste of what cities like Amsterdam have with a new tram network whizzing people between Wimbledon, Croydon and parts of Bromley and Sutton. A vast improvement on any bus service.

London Tramlink - photo courtesy Inside Croydon blog

London Tramlink – Photo courtsey of `Inside Croydon’ blog

Crossing the great divide

I have to declare an interest here. I’ve always lived south of the River Thames, except for a year or so when I lived in King’s Cross whilst working at ITN. So I’m a Sarf London boy through and through. North London does have many advantages. The West End is right on your doorstep, most of London’s landmarks are there and so are the visitors and workers, diplomats and armed police on permanent patrol.

But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and getting away from it all, back to the less frantic and frenetic south, has its advantages.

What’s your view? Am I missing out or looking through rose-tinted glasses? It would be great to get your feedback, whether your `manor’ is north or south. Leave a reply below and let me know your thoughts.

As the economy fails, have baby boomers had it too good?

UK Poverty Map, red highlights high regions of...

UK Poverty Map, red highlights high regions of poverty, white highlights low regions of poverty based on national statistics data (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I heard a brilliant phrase last week that sums up where Britain has got it so wrong. It was from a friend who was speaking to a woman from Denmark.

During a conversation about standards of living, she said: “In Denmark it is very hard to be very rich. But equally, it is almost impossible to be poor”.

Breadline Britain
In a recent speech the Bishop of London, Rev Richard Chartres, said he believes that baby boomers are the `lucky generation’ and that it is time for them to take a smaller share of government spending. That may in part be true. But we must not forget that there are plenty of pensioners of the ‘baby boom’ generation who do not have it all. In fact they have very little. They don’t own their own home or have access to a nice little nest egg or comfortable private pension.

I suppose the danger of Britain hitting hard times is that it stokes anger and resentment, especially among those at the bottom of the pecking order. Hence why we saw G8 protests yesterday in London and many of us still have a fresh memory of the shocking riots back in August 2011. But surely it is wrong to point the finger of blame purely at all older people despite them losing out less in the cutbacks and having a higher rate of home ownership. It’s also true that many were of working age when there were jobs for life, or at least full employment. And some did extraordinarily well and are reaping the rewards in retirement.

Inequality – the festering wound
One of the biggest tragedies of today is the weeping wound of inequality: inequality of wealth and opportunity. In 2013 it is far harder to leapfrog out of poverty compared to the past and much of that is down to the past 20 years of Labour and now the Coalition failing to address the problem. They were too content to see the rich become super rich. It’s their friends after all. But younger people, from poorer backgrounds, have little hope of achieving the same lifestyle as their grandparents, thanks to a lack of opportunities. That’s partly why we had the riots in 2011. And I won’t be surprised if sadly they return to our streets in the coming years.

Having swingeing cutbacks dictated by 10 Downing Street’s clique of Old Etonians which disproportionately affect the youngest and poorest in society will only serve to galvanise the fury of the ‘lost generation’.

English: David Cameron's picture on the 10 Dow...

English: David Cameron’s picture on the 10 Downing Street website (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the gap between rich and poor widens, so will that sense of hopelessness among those hardest hit, leading to more crime and less social cohesion. And it is social cohesion and a narrower gap between rich and poor that makes countries like Denmark, Sweden and Netherlands more civilised, less aggressive countries.

Private wealth, Public squalor
The real scandal is not that older people have done so well, but that those with the most seem to care the least about the future of younger people. Better social mobility helps, but social mobility only allows the few to jump out of poverty. What about the rest? Leave them in squalor?

So are the baby boomers guilty of having it all? I don’t think so, as long as those who are enjoying a comfortable retirement appreciate their good fortune and have the decency to realise others are not so lucky. This is not a time for cold hearts. And remember it’s the bankers and the rich who hoard their wealth who are ultimately responsible for the mess we are in today. Banker bashing and growing tension in society will not stop until there is a more level playing field.

A fairer approach
As long as we continue allowing the rich to get richer at the expense of the poor, with little compassion or action being taken, this country could become a far less happy place to live.
We have a simple choice in the UK. We either go for the American and increasingly Russian/Indian model of the fewest having the most whilst the majority can go stuff themselves, or we can learn lessons from our nearest cousins across the North Sea.

A more Scandinavian approach, with European social justice at its core, will benefit us all in the long run and help bring out the best in Britain.

Twickenham United Kingdom

Twickenham United Kingdom (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

“But without humans, who will run the earth?” A friend’s throwaway comment left me creased up with laughter.

Earth

Earth (Photo credit: stef thomas)

Let’s face it, most people don’t care much about the environment today, let alone in the future. We may have a fleeting concern about reports in the news of melting icecaps or disappearing tigers and chopped down rain forests, until we’re easily distracted by the need to cook dinner, get to an important meeting or just watch some mind-numbing rubbish on the television.

Biblical blunder
But one phrase that keeps cropping up in my mind is the Biblical quote about `Man having dominium over every living thing on the earth’. If God had an Environment Minister, that phrase would have been struck out of the Bible for being utterly misunderstood by humans who  think it means  we can trash anything we like because it’s ours to play with. After all, we `rule’ the earth.

So how well are we doing? Do we continue to have a flourishing and expanding bio diversity? I think you’ve guessed the answer.  Here in Britain a recent State of Nature report said 60% of animals and plants have been in decline over the past 50 years. And Britain has lost a staggering 97% of ALL its wildflower meadows since the 1930s. Another 3% to go and we’ll hit the enviro-trashers jackpot.

Forest elephants in the Mbeli River, Nouabalé-...

Forest elephants in the Mbeli River, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Congo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And on a global scale, it’s not looking too rosy either.  You’ve probably heard about deforestation, deserts becoming wider and drier and rising sea levels. But I wasn’t aware until recently of the increase of incidents involving the massacre of elephants in Africa. Reports of militia using AK-47s and night vision glasses to hack off the heads of elephants for ivory, whilst infant elephants were left for dead. These massacres are purely to supply ivory for chopsticks and the like. And just before Christmas, another example of our madness, as the last known wild tiger in China was killed and eaten by a villager.

Human paradox

David Attenborough

David Attenborough (Photo credit: London Permaculture)

And yet bizarrely whilst most of us are resigned to this mess, we continue to be inspired by snapshots of nature. We can watch David Attenborough for an hour, sitting there in awe and wonder at our planet’s brilliant mosaic of life. But moments later we’ll do something directly helping to destroy it: like drive to the shop just 10 minutes walk away , or boast about cut price long haul flights – without a second thought for the destruction we’re contributing in our own little way, which combined with everyone else, could eventually lead to the demise of our own species due to lack of habitat and too few resources.

Contradiction or denial?
I can clearly remember a few years ago when I was driving through Streatham in south London behind an enormous tailback with nothing moving. My head was telling me it was everyone else’s fault that the High Road had ground to a halt. “Who are these idiots all needing to go somewhere?” I thought, until I realised that I was also part of the problem. Did I really need my car for that journey? I could have walked in half the time if I hadn’t been so lazy.

English: Streatham High Road, London. SW16

English: Streatham High Road, London. SW16 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been surprised by how so many friends, family and neighbours drive their children to school when its only a short walk away and yet will complain about all the traffic. On the flip side, they’ll complain that kids can’t play on our streets anymore, whilst insisting it’s their right to drive down every damn road whenever they want and often at whatever speed they want. They just don’t see the link.

Blame game
Maybe we could blame Capitalism – it certainly deserves some accolade in the creation/destruction process with its constant urge to consume and make a profit at whatever cost. But ultimately it’s us – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents et al – who are aiding and abetting this destruction even if not intentionally.
There’s no easy solution. Friends often cite that until China does something about pollution etc, there’s no point in us doing anything. That’ll clear their guilt, but it’s an abdication. In some ways I don’t blame them. But it’s quite sad to think about the potential long-term consequences.

I grant you that the pace of modern life makes it increasingly difficult for people to make those little changes that, combined with others, will help protect and boost our environment.  But with our planet experiencing the worst extinction of species since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, it makes me think that if we’re not careful, we’ll go back to the future – a kind of medieval brutal world with few luxuries and a biblical struggle for survival.

Forecast the future
So “who will run the earth once humans have gone?”, as my friend asked. I don’t blame him for his flawed thinking. It was a comedy moment when I realised just how little people think about things and the dangers that follow if we humans big ourselves up too much. We are an incredible species – noted from our exploration into space, planes, high speed trains, the internet and technology.

you want the best for your children...

you want the best for your children… (Photo credit: Solokom)

Maybe I should take a withering leaf out of other people’s books and not give a moments extra thought about what we are doing to our planet. Especially as it’s often the parents of children who seem have the largest carbon footprint. If they’re not bothered – and they’ve got kids – why should I worry?

But equally, at this pace of plundering, one day the planet might just decide that OUR time is up.

This is no time for Boris to bang out a book about Winston Churchill

It beggars belief that at a time of high unemployment, crippling transport fares and a chronic housing shortage across the capital and beyond, that the Mayor of London can find time to write a new book about wartime hero Winston Churchill.

Wartime Leader Winston Churchill

Wartime Leader Winston Churchill

As reported in today’s Guardian, Boris Johnson has been commissioned by Hodder & Stoughton (with whom I had some fun contact recently regarding `A Street Cat Named Bob’). I’m not surprised at Hodder’s plan. Boris is a hugely popular figure – even among some traditional Labour supporters. His natural charm, wit and personality contrasts sharply with the majority of robotic, beige politicians who are now all-to-common in Westminster.

I admit that Boris has put a smile on my face on more occasions than I care to remember. But for those of us who are keen political observers, we see another side. An obsession with easy press photo opportunities that could be considered at the expense of answering tricky questions at regular press conferences – the total opposite to Red Ken who made himself available to journalists on a weekly basis, even if they weren’t interested.

Vanity projects

And despite Boris’ raw intelligence such as his love of Classics, this hasn’t filtered down to having an effective vision for London.

Boris has dreamed up a patchwork of mini ideas for London, from a bit of blue paint in the gutter to improve cycle safety, to a `lesser spotted’ new Routemaster bus that hardly any Londoners will see, let alone ever use.

Where’s the practical joined up vision of how to solve London’s chronic transport problems? He has wasted millions on a half-empty cable car scheme crossing the River Thames. I’ve been on it a few times. With so few people using it, it’s like having a personal  tourist transporter, but `strategic’ it is NOT. You have to walk through a windswept car park from North Greenwich tube station to get to it. It does not feel very `joined up’.

The new Routemaster bus looks good, but has a huge price tag compared to off-the-shelf or bendy buses. The bus companies in London have refused to purchase them, so now Londoners will have to fork out to extend his vanity project. Currently only one bus route has them. Another will follow soon for the nice people of Hamsptead, but again, it’ll have little impact on most Londoners.

The `lesser spotted' Boris Bus

The `lesser spotted’ Boris Bus

Philandering: Zip up or slip up?

After a recent Appeal Court ruling that the public have a right to know about Boris Johnson’s lovechild, some commentators expressed outrage insisting this episode shows how unfit he is for high office.

I’m not shocked or surprised that a senior politician has been shaking it about. History is littered with such infidelity. Maybe, and this is not an excuse, but maybe the stress of the job leads to a higher rate of extra marital affairs. These people are highly driven, so that’ll also filter down to the bedroom (or cupboard in Clinton’s case).  But those who say this is a red line issue and that Boris has crossed that line miss the point. We don’t live in Iran. We don’t look up to religious leaders to guide us. We elect politicians who have the best solutions to the current issues affecting us. And that’s where Boris has largely failed.

Legacy or legover?

When I hear others criticising Boris over his alleged affair/s, I think there are more valid reasons for criticism. From my home in outer south London, there’s no tram or tube extensions, there’s no cycle super highway, there’s no cycle hire scheme to take advantage of for short journeys, there’s not even plans for the Boris bus.

On his visit to Croydon last year to address business leaders at the Fairfield Halls in the wake of the riots, he kept them waiting hours after wrongly getting the train from London Bridge to East Dulwich, instead of East Croydon. This doesn’t reflect well on the Mayor’s knowledge of the Greater London which he is suppose to represent. London goes north of Islington and south of Clapham and Dulwich. Ignore that at your peril.

So my question to Boris would be: how can you afford the time to run one of the largest cities in the world with its host of transport/pollution/housing/employment problems, keep your Sunday Telegraph column that pays a `chickenfeed’ of reportedly £250k a year and now embark on authoring a major historical book about Winston Churchill?

It’s all about the detail Boris, and there’s only 24 hours in a day.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

Focus less on photocalls, novels and philandering and you might have time to `get’ the details of the job in hand. That way, Boris Johnson is more likely to achieve a lasting legacy, rather than being remembered merely for an embarrassing leg over.