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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

On Yer Bike

REMEMBER summers of old? Those halcyon days when workers took their traditional summer break whilst the great and the good trooped off to loll around their villas in Tuscany or bask in the Caribbean sun?

Those days are sadly gone. We’re now in the era of coronavirus and the ‘staycation’. August is still the ‘Silly Season’ but these days the papers have to fill their columns with even more rubbish now that the Wimbledon championships have been cancelled along with most of the cricket and the other competitive sports fixtures.

The traditional summer sightings of the Loch Ness monster and giant jellyfish stranded on the Devon coast may have gone, but the Johnson Government is doing its best to entertain us by offering free bikes on the NHS whilst Sir Keir Starmer’s supporters wile away the time trying to drum Jeremy Corbyn out of the Labour Party he once led.

In 1981 Norman Tebbitt, a largely forgotten Tory Cabinet minister of the Thatcher era, told unemployed workers to follow the example of his father who “got on his bike to look for a job” during the 1930s. Now his successors are urging us to do the same thing to fight the flab.

The Government has launched a campaign to combat obesity in England by offering £50 bike repair vouchers as part of plans to boost cycling and walking. An initial 50,000 vouchers will be issued online this week. Bikes will be available on the NHS and doctor’s surgeries will be stocked with bicycles to lend, with training, access to cycling groups and peer support. In some cases, we’re told, patients will be even allowed to keep them if they use them enough.

Boris Johnson says cycling and walking have “a huge role to play” in tackling health and environmental challenges, amidst growing evidence of a link between obesity and an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and Type-2 diabetes.

“But to build a healthier, more active nation, we need the right infrastructure, training and support in place to give people the confidence to travel on two wheels,” Johnson says. “That’s why now is the time to shift gears and press ahead with our biggest and boldest plans yet to boost active travel – so that everyone can feel the transformative benefits of cycling.”

The “Fix Your Bike” scheme is, of course, just another ‘feel good’ campaign, like the Chancellor’s £10 “Eat Out to Help Out” food voucher and the hand-outs designed to keep charities and small businesses going during the current crisis.

But laudable in itself, not “everyone” can safely ride a bike – least of all the morbidly obese that the campaign is aimed at. If the Government genuinely wants to provide a safe environment for cyclists, the first step would be to take public transport back into public ownership and restore the subsidies to bring down bus and train fares and reduce car usage across the country.

If the Government seriously wants to encourage “active travel” it could start by conserving the countryside that has been plundered by the property developers for decades and restoring London’s Green Belt and the open spaces of our great cities.

Finally, the best ‘feel-good’ factor would be to give the health service the resources it needs to speed the research into developing a vaccine against COVID-19 and tackle the coronavirus plague that has brought this country, and most of the world, to its knees this year.