A Modern Clement Attlee

Winston Churchill is widely regarded to be a national hero, and rightly so. Through his leadership the UK survived the biggest threat to its very existence for centuries, and years earlier he abolished road tax too. During those dark and dangerous times, he called for unity, and set up a coalition government, with the Labour party leader Clement Attlee as Deputy Prime Minister. Most people, of all political persuasions, were grateful for his leadership during the Second World War and the service he did his country.


After the War in Europe was over in 1945, elections were held again, and the people voted not for the man who had defended them so well during the time of war, but for the man they hoped would lead them differently during the new time of peace; Clement Attlee. The war was over, and so was the need for unity in the House of Commons. I write this because Clement Attlee is one of my favourite politicians (just read the Wikipedia article on him), but also because I was reminded of this bit of history when reading several posts by Carlton Reid.


Amongst the other points made in his posts; the issues with which are largely discussed in the comments, there is a theme that he believes it is more important for cycle campaigning to be unified than it is for a new organisation; such as The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, to exist to represent the beliefs of its members. His argument is that we are stronger as a unified force (even if many of us no longer feel adequately represented by existing campaigns such as the CTC) than we are if divided.

Cycling in the UK has seen some dark days, with modal share plummeting with the rise of mass car ownership and the simultaneous lack of investment in cycle infrastructure. The CTC and other existing organisations defended cycling through some of its darkest days, and I and many others truly appreciate this. If this were 1985, I might find myself agreeing with Carlton and saying that we need to remain unified. However, it is not 1985, times have changed and cycling in the UK has been through its darkest days and is coming out of the other side. We are starting to see the very beginnings of a recovery in our towns and cities, and a desire from the population to use the bicycle for transportation, with fear of traffic being the number one factor deterring them, a real desire for Dutch-style infrastructure and the organisation which is supposed to speak for cyclists listing this option amongst the least desirable in their Hierarchy of Provision.

Just as the man who got us through the biggest threat to our existence in centuries isn’t necessarily the man we want to lead us into a hopeful new era of peace, the campaign which protected cycling during its decline doesn’t necessarily represent the needs of those who cycle and those who want to cycle now we are presented with a real chance for a resurgence. In the end, Churchill lost the 1945 election to Clement Attlee, but this does not diminish his achievements in the eyes of the British public, just as the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain does not diminish those achievements of the CTC. There may have been a time for unity within the cycle campaign community, but that time is coming to an end. Many of us feel that the time is right for a change.

This, Carlton, is why I feel we need The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.


3 thoughts on “A Modern Clement Attlee

  1. That's a very interesting comparison. I too don't understand why it's damaging for bicycles in UK for the CEoGB to campaign for dutch infrastructure. It seems that it would only be natural for other campaigns to back it up, since, as CR has said himself, this is what they've been campaigning fruitlessly for the past decades. It would seem to me that a campaign which has the potential of engaging the would-be cyclists (which is the critical mass we need0 would be welcomed and supported. This is not so it seems. Questioning the infallibility of CTC and LCC is not welcome at all. We are called splitters, though we apparently want the same thing. Someone is being dishonest here. And the reason for it is obscure to me.

  2. Before anyone posts the inevitable comment, yes I do know that Churchill won the 1951 election 😛 Most metaphors don't stand up to close scrutiny. Plus, by then, the important work of change had really got going.

  3. To be fair, the Hierarchy of Provision is referring to "shared use cycle tracks" and simply doesn't consider the possibility of Dutch Style Infrastructure.I think it's correct to put "shared use" at the bottom. But I think Dutch style infrastructure should be added at the top. And that shows that superficially similar paths (segregated from the road) have completely different outcomes and value.And I think that indicates the care which must be taken in explaining the key differentiators of the dutch standards, so that designs do not morph into something more like today's shared use paths. [Note: I think most cycle paths don't exclude pedestrians, but making a deliberate shared use pavement is just lazy and inadequate provision]

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