As the year of the election approached, and battle lines were drawn up, it became clear to me that the major parties had all failed. More, the entire political system had failed, to the point “a pox on all your houses” didn’t contain sufficient vitriol to carry the anger and contempt I felt. However, given the choices and given the importance of exercising the vote that so many had fought and died for, I was probably a green voter. Many of my friends had already come to the same conclusion and quite a few had joined the party, indeed a couple of them were standing as candidates! But while I’ve voted for every major party in my lifetime, I’ve never felt the urge to join a party.
As I sat in standing traffic one tedious morning, I glanced about and saw car after car after car gently idling poisonous fumes into the atmosphere, each one in single occupancy. Built to hold four or five persons they brought the road network to a halt. A single motorcycle filtered through, slipping between stationary cars at a slow and safe, but nevertheless practical speed. He was getting somewhere, I was not. In fact, I lost four hours to traffic jams that day, there being an accident on the motorway on the way home. So effectively I was spending a lot of the day thinking about the positive environmental and economic outcomes that would result from promoting motorcycling.
Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I read the Green Party transport policy. I’ve blogged on the subject before of course, but with the election coming up fast it really annoyed me that the policy not only failed to promote power two-wheel (PTW) transport but actively spoke out against it, and declared policy that would be a disincentive to taking up or continuing motorcycling – a practice already slipping into the older generation, as young people are priced out of the market and into a culture of car ownership. I had a couple of rants in various social media and with friends, but the pointlessness of ranting was pointed out to me by someone who reminded me “you only change an organisation from the inside”.
The current Green Party transport policy dates from 2009, although there were amendments as late as September 2014, and mentions motorcycles several times.
- It says in TR274 that motorcycles must not be allowed to use facilities provided for buses, such as bus-lanes. Interestingly it defines motorcycles and through traffic including lorries, as if motorcycles are not a part of through traffic, so there’s some real discrimination there. This is echoed in TR322.
- In TR320 is states a preference for smaller, low powered motorcycles over cars. However they do not wish to see an increase in motorcycle use as “they emit pollution and noise and can endanger road users”. That’s a pretty controversial sentence there. In general, motorcycle engines are smaller, cleaner and more fuel efficient than cars. In part this is because there is less metalwork to be propelled around – another environmental bonus, less material used for construction. Noise is a legislative issue, and while some motorcyclists are of the opinion a noisy machine makes one more noticeable this is not a majority view, any more than we all believe hi-vis makes us easier to see. Finally, there is the implicit view that motorcyclists and road users are separate categories. Discrimination again.
- TR321 speaks of actively encouraging motorcycle manufacturers to move from larger machines to scooters and mopeds, and even deliberately limiting the functions on larger motorcycles. In my opinion one of the reasons so many young people move straight into car ownership rather than through or alongside motorcycling is that legislation over decades has made small machines for young adults both mandatory and dangerous. I’ve ridden 50cc restricted mopeds and it really is a ball-cringing experience, knowing you simply could not power out of a hazardous situation, that you were at the whim of every car and lorry driver who saw you as gutter fodder.
- Interestingly, although there is the predictable and sensible promotion of public transport and a general discouragement towards car ownership nowhere does the policy do what it does for motorcycles – no mention of limiting size of engine, power output or noise and, although one could argue the policy includes motorcycles, TR314 (which states historic vehicles would not suffer from the imposition of noise and pollution restrictions on new vehicles) is in the Car section of the policy document.
- The document wholly ignores electric motorcycles, as well as the obvious difference in pollution potential of 2-stroke v 4-stroke and the likelihood that the preferred smaller, lower powered machines would be oily, noisy, two-strokers.
So there is or at least was a clear dislike, perhaps hatred, or motorcycles in the Green Party. I believe motorcycles have a very positive role to play, particularly when one lives in a rural setting where home and work may be very distant from one another and public transport is poor or entirely absent. Someone suggested to me that the 2009 document was originally written by someone who had lost a family member to a motorcycle accident. That’s sad but not relevant – I lost an eighteen year old niece to a car crash, but I wouldn’t base national policy on it.
I went looking for people to rant at, and came back to the statement of my Green Party PPC friend, “you can only change an organisation from the inside”. In the Green Party, policy is determined by the Members of the Party, at the national Conventions. You’ve got to be in it to win it. And so, against my better judgement perhaps, I’ve joined the Green Party. I’ve emailed my local Green Party candidate Iain Hamilton, himself a motorcyclist, and I’ve joined the Members’ Forum on Transport. I’ve requested involvement in the Transport Working Group. And as a new pensioner perhaps I have the time… Let’s see.
What’s disappointing and inevitable and past correcting now, is that this policy is what the Green Party will be using as we head into the May 2015 election. It simply can’t be changed in time now. Many of my green (small g) motorcycling friends have stated publicly that they will not now vote Green, most vocally after the motorcycling news web site Visordown ran the story “Greens: We’ll remove motorcycles from bus lanes and fit speed limiters to high-powered machines”. Motorcyclists are not a small electorate, they are generally older (see above) and more likely to be registered to vote (unlike many of their car-choosing children). In my opinion the Green Party has the best overall ethos of the five, six or seven (depending how you count them) major parties. It’s such a shame and an own-goal, that they’ve approached this election with a prejudiced and aberrant dislike of motorcycles and, by association, motorcyclists.
I’ve commented before now that I practice Pragmatic Druidry. My green credentials are just the same. There are the where we want to be, and there is where we are now. The magic trick is how one gets from here to there, from A to B. Sometimes there has to be a staged process, an A to Z in fact, with all the other steps in between. Getting to a Green World is such a journey, as far as I can see, and promoting motorcycles as a positive means of reducing congestion even though they are petrol fuelled is one serious way of reducing pollution and increasing the productivity of the nation. It really can be green to be a biker. I’d like to see it possible to be Green and a biker too.
[puts on full face helmet and waits for the comments]