Let me introduce you to CMI, Chronic Mental Inertia – For the In-tray of Simon Case, the new Cabinet Secretary

It has been my considerable misfortune since my retirement to witness at close quarters the dire consequences of forming policies on the basis of “wouldn’t it be nice if…” and building empires on foundations of sand.

I have seen it twice. Special Education and Inclusion on the first occasion, and cycle lanes the second. SCROLL FORWARD TO CYCLE LANES IF THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE MOST INTERESTED IN AND PLEASE READ TO THE END.

Special Educational Needs

With Inclusion this is best illustrated with the SALAMANCA STATEMENT: NETWORK for ACTION on SPECIAL NEEDS EDUCATION Adopted by the World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality Salamanca, Spain, 7-10 June 1994 Organised by the Government of Spain and UNESCO.

  • those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools
  • regular schools with an inclusive ethos are the most effective way to combat discriminatory attitudes, create welcoming and inclusive communities and achieve education for all
  • such schools provide effective education to the majority of children and improve efficiency with cost- effectiveness. <my underlining>

It is also people typified by Phil Wills MP, former Lib Dem spokesman for Education, said in the Commons on 20 March 2001: “Working in Chapeltown in the late 1960’s convinced me that unless we could educate the whole community together – wherever they came from and whatever their needs and disabilities – frankly we would breed dysfunctional communities. It is a point of principle to me and my colleagues that inclusive education goes to the heart of the education system.”

On the back of this, in the UK, over 100 special schools -some particularly good ones – were closed despite parental opposition. I describe this as civic vandalism.

As the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Professional care for detail went out of the window. Rights were created but for many they conveyed no benefit whatsoever.  Concern for the rights of those adversely affected were of no matter. They never are. The idealists inveigled their way into Central and Local Government. The media and the legal profession in their ignorance of the facts on the ground bought into it.

The price – and to this day – children with special needs are given an equal opportunity to go to University when for many of them what they simply wanted was opportunity. The key word is not Equality but Liberty; an education that frees them to find their own innate talent, the message that the late Prof. Ken Robinson preached for the whole of education. Or, as I have been saying it, at the end of their schooling children should feel a sense of personal value, self-esteem – not in the case of half of them – a sense of failure to get into Uni. Denied a curriculum that made sense for them, a joy and a stimulation for them to study, and a value for the rest of their lives.

Bullying in mainstream, now cyber-bullying was never anticipated. The specialist teacher time required was never acknowledged and thousands of NTAs substituted. The effect on the teaching of other children was totally irrelevant. Human fallibility, as always, was never factored in. Read my book Death of a Nightingale with ispy or visit my website www.deathofanightingale.com if you want to see all the unexpected consequences.

Tragically, one of them, Covid-19 has probably exacerbated the problem; the schools that could have provided for children with special needs since March did not exist.

As chair of Governors, I saw this in Sunderland where I witnessed the Local Labour Council’s attempt to starve a school to death by denying it the funds to employ its staff. We were rescued by the parents’ campaign and by a legacy!

And now cycle lanes.

Here this is best illustrated by Sustrans, the cycling charity, lobby and shamateur road planner that has successfully inveigled its way into both Central and Local Government. This is their “wouldn’t it be nice if …” vision:

SUSTRANS Annual Review 2013-2014

 “By 2020, four out of five local journeys will be made by bike, foot or public transport.”  

 “We think a street should be designed for residents rather than those driving through, with slower speeds and slower moving traffic, so people are more inclined to walk and cycle for their journeys, some or all of the way .” <my underlining>

A strident minority went along with it. A silent majority hated it.

Once again blind optimism ruled the day. £billions thrown at it. Rights were created to promote it – the right to clean air. In their ignorance of facts on the ground the media bought into it. It sells newspapers or audience time. The legal profession went with the flow. The only world they see with total clarity lies within the walls of the Houses of Parliament and HM Courts of Justice. Whitehall’s mandarins again marble-less in marbled corridors, the Ministry for Transport morphing into the Ministry for the creation of Bottlenecks.

They are all ignorant of danger. RoSPA’s stats rely only on injuries reported to the police not on NHS stats that must be there. A simplistic belief by the flat earthers that what the Dutch do in little Holland can be replicated in UK’s towns and cities with our narrow, busy urban roads, our 10,000 roundabouts, and our potholes and on our narrow, twisting picturesque rural roads and lanes between high hedge rows.

What do they expect? With a few new segregated cycle lanes, tens of thousands of frustrated motorists in UK, fined £100 for speeding over 20mph and shortly to be fined £70 for parking on the curb to create more road space, will immediately dash out and buy bikes for all the family. Ho Ho. Never mind rain, gale force winds, and wintry sleet and slush soon to come.

Never mind the increased congestion they cause. Never mind that the priority should be providing fast chargers for the EV revolution the world’s auto industry is currently preparing itself for. Never mind that the High Streets of the UK need the lifeblood that motorists can provide if they were made welcome not treated like lepers.

I saw this in Newcastle.

 Drawing a black line on a street map with a crayon for a cycle lane was the easy bit. They didn’t see the bottleneck on Gosforth High Street where the width of an arterial road for heavy traffic and a shopping street combined is narrower than the width of four bus stops. I had it measured.

Here are the National Cycling to Work stats for Newcastle 1,781 in 2001 rising to 3,223 in 2011.

And a local survey on Gosforth High Street recorded only about 70 cycling journeys daily, probably 35 cyclists with return journeys.

Yet, the local Project Manager for cycle lanes and red lines wrote to Mr. C. Thorpe, a successful local trader objecting, “We are tasked with growing cycling in the city to a significant proportion of all trips under five miles. On numbers this could easily mean that to be successful we will need to see up to 3,000 cyclists a day using this corridor to comply with 20% of all trips under five miles.”

And the local Labour council adopted Sustrans’ precisely calculated forecast of 1,232,177 additional cycling trips.

Imagine 3,000 cyclists daily using this corridor. Imagine even 300.

Pop-up Cycle lane on Gosforth High Street

Pop-up cycle lanes are supposed to be temporary. I hope this one is very temporary.

Here pop-up cycle lanes are on one side only of Gosforth High Street, not segregated, sometimes abbreviated – cyclists in single file right next to a long toxic traffic tail back of buses, cars, vans and lorries, free clean air in particularly short supply, and a little local difficulty for the emergency services to contend with.   With artistic licence Sustrans’ designed consultation for the local authority envisaged two-way cycle lanes and red lines here! As it is, cyclists on their return journeys must either ride the pavement or fight for space with those buses, cars, vans, and lorries. Today I saw a handful of cyclists do both.

This is a far cry from Copenhagen, Amsterdam &c. where everything is different.

The calamitous performance of Corbyn’s Labour Party and the near-demise of the LibDems in the Brexit Election of December 2019 brings back to my mind the little story I told at the end of the Prologue to my book “Death of a Nightingale with Ispy.”

Two seriously ill patients go to see a doctor. He examines the first. “Oh dear” he says, “I am most terribly sorry, I cannot do anything here.” He then sees the second. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, I must do something here.”

Here is my diagnosis: CMI – CHRONIC MENTAL INERTIA in high places, a partial explanation.



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