September 25th 2011: a day of UK rider protest has been called for, and start points chosen for a two wheeled demo. Predictably, however, the UK biker lobby is divided on the action. So what’s the bottom line here?
A couple of years ago, I did a feature for BIKE magazine which involved bringing representatives from the UK motorcycle lobby together in a plea for unity. Broadly speaking, we felt that the differences between MAG and the BMF needed to be shelved when it came to key political issues: we should to speak with one clear voice. Needless to say, we were rebuffed: people (and the organisations they work for) have positions to protect.
The latest MAG sponsored bike demo scheduled for later today (25/9/11) at various points around the UK had hardly surfaced as a concept before a BMF representative announced that his organisation could not condone the action. Straight away therefore, before a shot had been fired, the biking lobby announced to the world that it is divided. No change there.
In some ways we get the BMF stance on this one – up to a point. The first rule of thumb for any political action is that participants can explain to bystanders (including journalists) why they are involved. In this case even the organisers seem unable to articulate exactly what the threat is: a visit to the MAG website last week didn’t exactly clear the picture. The gist seems to be that putative EU proposals on motorcycling are unacceptable. Demo wise, the problem is that these proposals are a long way from the EU statute book, never mind Westminster ‘s (there may well be room for individual territories to selectively opt out of transport policy changes). So urging bikers to respond to the DfT consultation on the changes would have made more sense than hitting the road en masse at this stage of the game, without a specific target. There is a risk of crying wolf: such a demo may well come in handy further down the line, when we know the precise nature of the beast we are combating. We argued for more direct action at that Bike conference (against the BMF stance), but there has to be a time and a place. Shrewd politicos keep their powder dry until it’s really needed.
However, once MAG had summoned the troops, it was inevitable that some people were going to attend. In which case, a poor turn out would be a PR own goal for UK motorcycling in general. That is the sole reason why we support the action. In reality, this has become a solidarity gig, and since 99% of the UK public are ignorant of current EU transport policy, let alone in terms of hypothetical future editions, individual demonstrators called to account by a bewildered motorist can pretty much say whatever they want in support of the action without fear of contradiction. Nevertheless, it would still make far more sense if coherent and unified responses were forthcoming.
What the BMF should have done was support MAG while insisting that a simple, clear message was promulgated for public consumption. MAG should, of course, have figured that out for themselves in the first place. It’s hard to see this as being anything more than part of a dreary ongoing power struggle between two inept dinosaurs, both of whom seem catastrophically short on political suss – neither organisation has had much to say on the DfT consultation, where our voices are more likely to be heard by legislators than on an ill conceived and under reported Sunday morning protest.
Next time there needs to be a clearly defined cause, simply explained – in other words, a decent political agenda. Meanwhile, there’s nothing wrong with solidarity. Let’s just hope that MAG put all that good will to good use.