Friday 10 February 2012

What's smug and deserves to be decapitated ?

A reminder
On the 27th of December 2007, under the heading "What's smug and deserves to be decapitated ?", Matthew Parris, a one time Conservative Member of Parliament working as a journalist for The Times, wrote the following in a rather unpleasant article:

"A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists. It's not just the Lycra, though Heaven knows this atrocity alone should be a capital offence; nor the helmets, though these ludicrous items of headgear are designed to protect the only part of a cyclist that is not usefully employed; nor the self-righteousness, though a small band of sports cyclists on winter's morning emits more of that than a cathedral at evensong; nor even the brutish disregard for all other road users, though the lynching of a cyclist by a mob of mothers with pushchairs would be a joy to witness."

There was, understandably, quite an outrage about this. If such an incitement of violence had been against a different minority group then it might have resulted in a different outcome, but Matthew had the support of his editor. A week later, Matthew Parris issued an apology and the Press Complaints Commission decided that their code of practice had not been breached. To this day, Matthew Parris still writes for The Times newspaper.

Click through for an analysis of The Times' Eight Point Manifesto for Cycling

In both 2006 and 2008 we contacted The Times, amongst other British newspapers, to invite them to take an interest in our study tours of infrastructure in the Netherlands. There was no reply.


  1. Imagine the reaction if the word "Muslim" was substituted for "cyclist", "burka" for "lycra", "hijab" for "helmet", and "religions" for "road users",.......

  2. Greetings David,

    We rode together way back in the 20th Century along the - soon to be reactivated? - Anglo-Scots border.

    Good to see you're also taking this opportunity to re-shame Parris.

    Can you help. Since around 1990 I've been using the statistic that one-in-four bicycle journeys in the Netherlands are made by a female pensioner. Do you know the latest estimate? Or can you point me towards a data source please?

    I think you may be sparking the long-awaited - by me at least - UK velo-mobile boom.


  3. Hi Patrick, great to hear from you.

    I think I should remind you that we've ridden together in the 21st century too, on several occasions around the track at Eastway, for instance, where you had a slightly annoying habit of almost always just beating me on the line :-)

    I think what Parris said was pretty much unforgivable. As Anonymous points out, it would rightly not have been seen as funny if it was aimed at a religious group. Unfortunately, "cyclists" remain very much an out-group in British society. Because of this, I've made the point several times in the past that it is better to campaign on issues which benefit everyone rather than just "cyclists".

    I'm not sure about one in four of all cycle journeys being by a female pensioner. That sounds like it's been mixed up. It is definitely true that pensioners make a quarter of all their journeys by bike.

    There are several posts about older people, some of which include statistics.

    A UK velomobile boom ? I do hope so. They're certainly great fun.

  4. I think the new 'Times' campaign confirms that we've passed from the 'out-group' era - when people on bikes were a vanishing tribe, stubbornly refusing to vanish - into the era of mixed-messages where you may still be treated like vermin but also like some kind of ubermensch? In Central and Inner London cycling is normalised in some demographics and here in West Hackney you see people of all stripes riding around like they own the road. Freightbikes and trikes, pedal-trailers and family groups are much in evidence.

  5. I remember Matthew Parris as the only guest on Radio 4's News Quiz who I found so abrasive that I had to turn the show off - that's quite an accomplishment for a comedy show. The man isn't worth anyone's time, so let us speak of him no more.

  6. I wonder, do you think the Times staff (and it is surely the staff, not the proprietor as is often the case) could mount a campaign like this without the Dirty Digger's current travails? Could it be that they have found the balls to get up off their knees because they see Murdoch is grieviously, if not mortally, wounded?

    Not that I'm complaining. I know that you are sceptical (to say the least) about the campaign, but is sure better than annything we have seen from the Conservative press for a while.

  7. Paul: I'm also glad to see them taking note of the danger faced by cyclists, and I'm not skeptical of their motives, which I think are genuine as a result of the injury of their colleague. However, they should have done a lot more research before making such a noise. Sadly, by asking for too little, there's a risk that they'll undermine campaigners who ask for more.

  8. I am disgusted to keep hearing recently on radio 4 that Parris is "back at the BBC" presenting a programme. Also I see that someone keeps removing details of his hateful anti Cyclist outbursts from Parris' Wikipedia page.

    I feel (as a Cyclist who has had to endure bullying and belligerent behaviour from motorists over many years on our Cycle/pedestrian unfriendly Roads) that an apology was woefully insufficient for such a hate crime as Parris'. Indeed he has since shown similar prejudices re Cyclists by attempting to elicit sympathy for his "Cyclists should pay Road Tax (sic)" views via mewing about the response he got from his original vitriolic piece in 2008.


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