Deaths of doughty fighters

As ever, have been a bit busy to blog but the coincidence of the deaths of two very significant, if totally different, transport campaigners has made me put finger to laptop. I just learnt of the death of John Tyme, who fought a series of campaigns against roadbuilding in the 1970s and 1980s, most notably at the Archway Road enquiry. Every time I cycle or drive up the Archway Road dual carriageway north of Archway roundabout, which is part of the A1, I think of Tyme and his campaign which stopped the rest of the road being widened. The desultory shops which he saved are gradually coming back to life and a few posh restaurants have even opened there, and the area retains a modicum of sanity. Without him, there would have been a huge dual carriageway all the way out to the M1, destroying the community of that part of north London.

His tactic was quite simple, turning up at enquiries and refusing to be silenced. There were attempts to throw him out, demonstrations, adjournments, retreats and huge publicity. It was wonderfully effective. He believed, quite rightly, that the case for roadbuilding had not been made and that these various road schemes were part of a much wider policy to create a road-oriented transport policy that was never properly and honestly set out by government.

The other sad loss is, of course,Gwyneth Dunwoody, the chairman (she insisted on being called that) of the Commons Transport Committee. Her renown was made all the greater when the silly control freaks at Labour HQ tried to oust her after the 2005 election in order to silence one of the critics on their own side, but she easily fought off this daft attempt. She used her position well, launching enquiries on the most obvious government failings and using her wit and sharpness to put down the most illustrious witnesses in their place. Although the committee only has the power to highlight and publicise issues, she used its strength to the maximum, ensuring that ministers and officials came to the committee room in a state approaching approaching terror. Indeed, she was the Commons’ true terrorist.

God does the world need people like Dunwoody and Tyme. They may have chosen very different paths, but they were both fighters against far bigger forces and yet they often won or at least brought about changes to iniquitous policies. There seem to be far fewer of them these days. It takes so little to disrupt the smooth progress of capitalism towards the creation of a corporate world in which all life is extinguished – a clever publicity stunt, a bit of digging into the facts, the odd piece of direct action, effective lobbying of sympathetic people and so on – and yet so much these days gets passed with nary a word of dissent. The people battling against 4x4s are a good example of how a small campaign can really help to change the political climate. There are scandals and outrages a plenty to expose, but it takes a few doughty campaigners to highlight them. So step forward the new Tymes and Dunwoodys, the world needs you.

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