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Image of Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, in Houses of Parliament, copyright House of Commons https://parliament.assetbank-server.com/assetbank-parliament/images/assetbox/f1772292-a1cb-404b-832b-99b04be0aa73/assetbox.html

GE 2024: Government & Mayor match

UK election returns a Labour government to match London’s Labour Mayor – what does that mean for the capital & cycling? Good things, we hope.

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Cycling cuts across party lines, but…

Has the ‘Plan for Drivers’ stalled? The culture war rhetoric that the previous government stoked, suggesting there was a ‘war on drivers’ while itself declaring a war on measures to make nice places for living, walking and cycling, seems likely over this morning. A significantly larger number of people across the UK voted yesterday for parties that say they support action to deliver safe and healthy streets, to tackle the climate crisis seriously by reducing motor vehicle emissions, and to work on crises of public health and related pollution and inactivity, particularly in our cities.

We also wake up this morning with a Mayor of London, many London MPs and councils, and a government from the same party – which has major implications potentially for how London is supported and funded going forward. That changing of the guard also sees MPs who were directly opposed to active travel schemes replaced by those who say they support them – most notably in central London.

Of course, it can be argued, indeed we regularly argue, that boosting cycling and active travel, even motor vehicle ‘demand management’, are issues every political party should support – and that represent ‘wins’ for every mainstream party as measured against their core policies. But we’re yet to find a pro-cycling Reform politician, and even Conservative ones are a bit thin on the ground.

While every party has anti-cycling politicians in practice, as well as those who promise much but deliver little, Labour councillors, Mayors and MPs in London have been broadly fairly supportive of active travel in recent history. And some have delivered, at borough and regional level, transport schemes designed to reduce our dependency on motor vehicles and enable a shift to alternatives – public transport, walking/wheeling and cycling.

So, what does a Labour government, Labour Mayor, mostly Labour MPs and Labour councils mean for cycling in London?

The good news, re: Labour

London’s Mayor and many of London’s Labour politicians are already leaders on active travel and cycling. We asked our local groups to write to candidates to be MP before the election in London based on our template open letter. We will now write to all London MPs – Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative to reinforce these key points.

Firstly, that there is a cross-party mandate for London MPs to recognise the important role active travel and indeed reducing motor vehicle use has in London, and elsewhere.  It means MPs being far more informed, ‘on brief’ and cheerleading active travel and what needs to be done to boost it inside London and beyond – and primarily it means ensuring London and other regions and cities have the funding to deliver schemes and change.

Secondly, London MPs can and should be proud of a London Mayor and London councils that continue to be bold and brave and deliver innovative, internationally-recognised new schemes to get more people walking/wheeling, cycling and ditching the car. London MPs can use London as a leading light for active travel and ask for policies and approach that match London or improve on learnings from the capital.

Thirdly, coordination between many London councils, the Mayor and government should now be easier. And that could have positive implications. There are many things impossible to do in current TfL schemes that a more supportive central government could help achieve, and more, there is the spectre of a Secretary of State who might be minded to hand the Mayor control of strategic roads, in boroughs unwilling to progress active travel schemes if all other avenues of discussion fail – Kensington & Chelsea, we’re looking at you.

Finally, we’ll offer to meet MPs across London and across parties, to show them what London has achieved, to discuss active travel measures, climate, and more and we’ll ask them to end engaging in them and us ‘culture war’ rhetoric and instead do the sensible thing and back and fund active travel that most people in the UK want.

The bad news re: Labour

We still have too many Labour, as well as other, politicians, even in London, who don’t ‘get’ cycling. We’ll be working now to ensure all of London’s politicians understand how cycling is a cheap, sensible and inclusive mode of transport, not just a hobby for rich MAMILs; and we’ll be working to ensure all of London’s politicians listen to everyone in their communities, not just the loudest and most privileged, who often dominate consultations. We’ll also, as above, be reinforcing the links between cycling, the government’s policy platform and manifesto and the Mayor’s commitments on climate action, road safety etc.

The biggest unknown in all of this is the economy and funding – London needs transport funding to continue to lead the country on sustainable and active travel. The last government undermined funding for London and its transport networks. And it’s clear Starmer and Labour have inherited an economic situation from the past Conservative government that is by any reading grim, and are set, according to their policies and manifesto not to shift radically, at least initially.

There is no ‘magic money tree’ then for active travel – and a no guarantee that Starmer will be an active travel evangelist, compared to other spending priorities, despite the pressing issue of a climate crisis. There’s a lot of work then for LCC and other regional and national active travel organisations to do – to persuade the new government to be far more coherent and bold on active travel and transport generally, to deepen their commitment to and coherence around active travel, to properly fund transport in the UK’s key cities, and to help London’s Mayor more. But the divisive rhetoric around driving and cycling is hopefully at an end today – with a mandate from the people that the ‘Plan for Drivers’ and other such culture war attacks on active travel were not popular.

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