In 2008, The Times columnist Matthew Parris was slapped over the wrist by the Press Complaints Commission after he used his column in The Times to write about the decapitation of cyclists.
Parris had started his article thus: “A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.” After an outcry from cyclists, many of whom pointed out that such acts of violence have previously taken place on rural trails, Parris apologised.
He said: “I offended many with my attack on cyclists. It was meant humorously but so many cyclists have taken it seriously that I plainly misjudged. I am sorry.”
However, he can’t resist stirring the hornets’ nest and has again poked out at cyclists. In a column for The Spectator, the former Tory MP said cyclists “are good at organising (as I know to my cost, having once upset them).”
Calling on cyclists to form “a sort of AA of cycling” to pay for and build cycling infrastructure, Parris made the classic error of claiming cyclists “pay no road tax.”
I created iPayRoadTax.com to combat this myth. ‘Road tax’ is 74 years dead. It morphed into Vehicle Excise Duty, a tax on motorised vehicles not a user fee for paying for roads.
Parris was using his column to press for David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. While Parris is not on record for complaining about any of the taxpayers’ billions spent on the benefit of motorists (motorways, for instance which non-motorists pay for, too), he spluttered his disbelief at money to be spent on a cyclists’ tunnel on the Monsal Trail:
“The estimated cost of this work, [a sign said], was £2.6 million. I don’t question the estimate. The Peak District National Park are not spendthrifts. Though managing the project, they are receiving substantial help from Cycling England, a body itself temporarily funded by the Department of Transport, though I understand that future state funding is not assured.
“Couldn’t cyclists themselves be more involved in the funding of Cycling England — some £160 million per annum? Cyclists have a strong sense of community and are good at organising (as I know to my cost, having once upset them). I would hazard a guess that as an overall group they do not represent a particularly disadvantaged section of society. They pay no road tax. Cyclists do already support a range of cycling organisations, local and national, out of their own pockets: why not this one, if they want it to continue?”
Huh? Do motorists pay into a slush fund to keep the Department for Transport afloat?
In a comment on The Spectator article, I wrote:
“Fairies, Mr Parris. Fairies.
“As a group, cyclists are extremely good at organising in a self-help way. For instance, there are lots of loosely-organised mountain bike trail building groups. Some are known as ‘trail fairies’ because they do lots of work but are rarely seen.
Matthew’s ignorance extends into matters of taxation, too. ‘Road tax’ was abolished in 1937. Motorists do not pay for roads, everybody pays for roads. Motorways and trunk roads are paid for via general taxation and local roads are paid for by council tax.”
On the same piece there are now a number of similar comments, chiding Parris for his ignorance.
‘Tor d’France’ wrote:
“What a splendid idea. And, given that motorists don’t pay road tax either – nobody has since 1937, cyclists, motorists and all other tax payers paying for the upkeep of the roads for general taxation – how about getting car drivers to club together to pay for and help to build bypasses?”
Spotter, with thanks: Simon Bird, a reader from Reading