Friday, 29 January 2010

Friday Links

Gender balance in NE parliamentary elections

I've gone through the election candidates in the North East region for the last three general elections. Here's the breakdown by gender (there were, as far as I can tell, no non-binary candidates, but it's not possible to be certain about this). It's quite a big table.

The election winner is marked with a '*', or '**' if they were elected for the first time to that seat.

Constituency200520011997TotalPercent maleElections without women
FMFMFMFM
Berwick-upon-Tweed03*04*05*012100%3
Bishop Auckland2**213*13*4867%0
Blaydon13**03*04*11091%2
Blyth Valley03*03*12*1889%2
City of Durham2**213*14*4969%0
Darlington05*15*04*11493%2
Durham North03*12**04*1990%2
Durham North West1*32*22*25758%0
Easington14*04*05*11393%2
Gateshead East and Washington West1**32*22*15655%0
Hartlepool35**06*13*61278%1
Hexham05*04*05*014100%3
Houghton and Washington East04*03*04**011100%3
Jarrow05*06*06**017100%3
Middlesbrough25*05*13*31381%1
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland14*21*03**3873%1
Newcastle upon Tyne Central14*04*13*21185%1
Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend14*07*15**21689%1
Newcastle upon Tyne North04*03*13*11091%2
Redcar1*61**32*141071%0
Sedgefield510*16*23*81970%0
South Shields04*14**05*11393%2
Stockton North14*13*13*31077%0
Stockton South13*13*04**21083%1
Sunderland North14*05*05*11493%2
Sunderland South14*15*13*31280%0
Tyne Bridge14*05*23*31280%1
Tynemouth03*13*05**11192%2
Tyneside North12*06*04**11292%2
Wansbeck13*15*05**21387%1
TOTAL3111618118201106934483%
Percent male79%87%85%83%
Seats without women1015154
  • Only 8 of the 30 seats have had women standing at all of the last three elections. 4 of the 30 have had no women standing in any of the last three elections. There were no times where no men stood, and only 3 when only 1 stood.
  • Out of the 90 constituency-year pairs, only 8 had at least as many women as men standing (only 3 had more women than men). No constituency over the 3 years combined had at least as many women as men standing, with the closest being the 5-6 split in Gateshead East and Washington West.
  • 11 of the 90 votes were won by women, an even lower proportion. However, most of these seats are very safe and most have not changed party for decades. Currently, 16% of the seats are held by women, which is slightly fewer than expected from the numbers of candidates.
  • 4 out the 16 seats where the incumbent stepped down were won by women, all in the 2001 and 2005 elections. Given the political leanings of the region, this says a bit about Labour's selection practices, but very little about anything else.
  • The seats mostly being safe means that these results are probably not generalisable to the rest of the country. It also means that there's perhaps little point in breaking these results down by party, as the behaviour of party selection processes in largely unwinnable seats is less important than their behaviour in marginal and safe seats.

It will be interesting to see what happens at this general election. All three major parties recently committed themselves to selecting more non-default candidates by various means, though whether this will have much effect remains to be seen. Given that it's been an obvious problem for several previous elections, I'm not particularly hopeful.

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Thursday, 28 January 2010

You can't use prejudice if you want to fight it.

The local candidate for MP for the Lib Dems has recently put out a pre-campaign newsletter to the voters. They stand a chance of taking the constituency at the next election, but part of beating the incumbent, under "First Past the Post" counting, is to make sure that they pick up all the anti-Labour votes.

So, as well as criticising the record of the current Labour MP, they also have to encourage voters who were considering any third party candidates to vote tactically for them to beat Labour. So far, the only other declared candidate is for the Conservatives.

So far, this is an inevitable consequence of the electoral system, and unavoidable for anyone who wants to win. Here's some of the text from the anti-Conservative part of the newsletter. It's in bold type in the newsletter - the only text outside of headings, sub-headings, and the first paragraph of articles that is, so it's clearly something they want to draw attention to.

The Conservatives have already shown how little they think of their own chances by selecting a 20 year old student from Hull University as their candidate.

It's a short sentence, but it packs in a lot of wrongness.

It's extremely common for parties to put up candidates in seats where they stand no realistic chance of election, for a whole range of good reasons. It's also, given the demographics of the constituency, previous election results, more recent polling, and so on, true to say that there is basically no practical way that the Conservative candidate can win this seat this year.

However, the sentence above says that the selection of this particular candidate is more of an admission of not being able to win the seat than the Conservatives selecting any of their other potential candidates would have been.

There are only two facts revealed about the candidate:

  • They are a student at Hull University
  • They are 20 years old

One or both of these is presumably the reason believed that their selection is an admission of defeat.

It's fairly clearly not that they're a student at Hull. This is an attempt to portray the candidate (who comes from the constituency) as "not local". The same attempted portrayal has been used by the Lib Dems against the Labour incumbent, too, and they repeatedly emphasise that the Lib Dem candidate is "local". It's most obviously not also a criticism of Hull University, or a suggestion that it provides a bad education, because the Lib Dem candidate was previously a student there too.

So, it must be the age. Selecting a 20 year old candidate would only be an admission of defeat if 20 year old candidates were by definition not serious candidates. I don't doubt that there are plenty of people who do hold this view, of course, whose vote the newsletter is attempting to sway.

Here, of course, is the problem. Attempting to play on voter ageism is a really bad idea. The Lib Dems, at a national level, claim to be against it - their constitution contains "... we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon ... age ... and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.". It's unfortunate for at least three reasons beyond the obvious "ageism is wrong" that the local party isn't remembering this:

  1. Lots of voters are themselves young, especially in a constituency where around a fifth of the voters are students. Alienating potential voters in a close election is a really bad idea. Presumably they believe they'll win more votes than they lose through this.
  2. It makes it hard to believe that they actually follow the anti-discrimination principles they claim.
  3. The Lib Dems have a lot of very young candidates themselves. Charles Kennedy, their former leader (quite popular and successful; forced out of office due to ableism within the party), was 23 when elected in 1983 - the same age above the minimum age1 that the Conservative candidate is now.

It's with that third reason that I finally get to the point.

Any party that claims to be anti-discrimination and pro-equality, if it actually does anything towards that, will probably end up with non-default candidates (if it doesn't, I doubt its commitment to equality). If, elsewhere, it carries out actions that reinforce the idea that deviating from the default makes one less important or less qualified, it not only reinforces general bigotry, but it makes its own job elsewhere and elsewhen harder.

There should be no place in a party that wants to fight discrimination for the use of discrimination. While privilege makes it very easy to accidentally do so, this was quite clearly no accident, which makes it even more disappointing.

I'm sending the following letter to the local Lib Dems.

I received your latest [newsletter] recently, which contains the following sentence about the local Conservative candidate: "The Conservatives have already shown how little they think of their own chances by selecting a 20 year old student from Hull University as their candidate."

A clear implication of this sentence is that a candidate who is that young is automatically not a serious candidate.

Your own Charles Kennedy, one of your most successful leaders in recent years, was only 23 on his first election to Parliament - the same age above the legal minimum as the Conservative candidate is now. The preamble to your party's federal Constitution states "we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon ... age ... and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality."

I find it very disappointing that a candidate for the only UK party to make a commitment to fight ageism in its Constitution is making use of that prejudice themselves, rather than opposing the Conservatives on their policies.

Could you please confirm that future Lib Dem campaigning in this constituency will be more consistent with the values of the party expressed in the federal Constitution, and avoid the encouraging of prejudice as a campaign tool.

1 It used to be 21, and was reduced in 2006 - as far as I can tell with no opposition in Parliament - to 18.

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Friday, 22 January 2010

Friday Links

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

No justice, as usual

[trigger warning]

Yet another rape trial collapses as the victim is found to not have been sufficiently close to society's requirements for rape victims. From the BBC article

Five men have been cleared of raping a woman after it emerged she had spoken online about group sex fantasies. The 24-year-old from Liverpool claimed she was raped after visiting one of the men at his home in Bolton, after making contact on the internet. But the trial at Preston Crown Court collapsed when computer evidence was produced showing her entertaining the prospect of group sex.

The prosecutor:

"It is right to say that there is material in the chatlogs from the complainant, who is prepared to entertain ideas of group sex with strangers, where to use her words 'her morals go out of the window'. This material does paint a wholly different light as far as this case is concerned."

The judge:

"This case depended on the complainant's credibility. Not to put too fine a point on it, her credibility was shot to pieces."

So, let's get this clear: because the victim had at some point expressed a desire to have sex with a group of people, and because she had at some point wanted to have sex with one of the accused, she must therefore have consented to sex with all of them. That's not how consent works. That's not even how the somewhat inadequate legal definition of consent works.

It is, of course, pretty much exactly the rape culture definition of consent. If you've ever even thought about a particular type of sex you are forever more consenting to it. It's a definition of consent that would rightly be laughed right out of court and into a jail cell for any other crime.

There is nothing in this piece of evidence presented (presumably by the defence) that implies that on this particular occasion she consented, and presumably there was a case the prosecution thought winnable before this non-sequitur was revealed or it wouldn't even have reached trial.

Essentially the prosecution decided to throw the case based on being given an irrelevant piece of evidence, and the judge said "good choice".

I have a letter from my MP, in reply to this earlier letter, in which they say:

"[...] All rape cases are now handled by senior and highly trained specialist rape prosecutors. [...]"

I'm now wondering, "highly trained" in what, exactly? "Reinforcing rape culture and getting paid for it"? "Kicking victims while they're down"? "Running away in terror when the going gets difficult"?

I've sent the following letter to my MP:

Thank you for your reply of 12 October 2009 regarding the various steps that the government has been taking in recent years to prevent and prosecute rape. In it, you write "All rape cases are now handled by senior and highly trained specialist rape prosecutors."

In the news today, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/8455161.stm, is the collapse of a rape trial at Preston Crown Court. Five defendants were accused of rape and conspiracy to rape, but the trial collapsed because it was revealed that the woman they were accused of raping had previously spoken online about group sex, and the prosecution then decided to offer no evidence.

The logic followed by the prosecutor, and agreed with by the judge, as far as can be determined from their statements, is that because the woman had previously spoken online about group sex, they therefore would permanently and forever more consent to any and all group sex acts, and therefore there could not have been rape committed. This logic is never applied to any crime other than rape, and is a product of the misconceptions about rape that the recent changes in the law were intended to combat.

It is a well-known problem that anyone other than the "perfect victim" has a much more difficult task in obtaining justice. I assumed, when I read your previous letter, that the training received by the specialist prosecutors included how to counteract the bringing up of these harmful stereotypes and irrelevant facts in court to improve the chances of the victims receiving justice, and hoped that it would help the majority of rape victims who do not fit society's stereotype of who a rape victim should be.

It seems from this that at least some of these specialist prosecutors not only do not know how to properly refute these false arguments, but in fact believe the arguments themselves. This is a very worrying problem, implying severe inadequacies in both the selection and training of the specialist prosecutors.

What further steps will the government be taking, in light of this and similar cases, to strengthen the training and selection of the specialist prosecutors to the extent required to reliably give future rape victims justice?

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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Unable to escape their initial assumptions

Via a comment at Shapely Prose (in a piece well worth reading itself) I was directed to BMI and Mortality: Results From a National Longitudinal Study of Canadian Adults (full text, for once, public!), yet another study of the correlation between BMI and lifespan, similar to the US and German studies previously mentioned.

It largely repeats the results of the previous studies: a BMI below 18.5 or above 35 is associated with a statistically significant (though small, especially for "above 35") increase in risk of death compared with a BMI in the 18.5-25 range, and BMIs between 25 and 30 are associated with a statistically significant (though again small) decrease in risk of death.

Let's take as read for now, because it's been covered many times before, that:

  • most importantly, there is no moral value associated with healthiness or having a particular BMI anyway. While governments might understandably want a longer-lived and healthier population, because it makes their jobs easier, and while many individuals understandably might themselves like to live long and healthy lives if possible, that doesn't mean that there's any requirement on individuals to be healthy - it's often out of their control, and even when it is within their control, there may be other things they think are better uses of their time, energy and money;
  • BMI as a usable statistical population measure does not make it a useful individual measure for a whole range of reasons;
  • there is no known way to reliably effect a long-term change in weight;
  • correlation is not causation: just because people with a particular BMI are more likely to die in a given time period doesn't mean that this is caused by being in that BMI range, nor does it imply that magically increasing or decreasing their weight would make them live any longer.

The way the paper is written is quite interesting, and indicates that the authors have a deep belief that fat is bad that they're trying to preserve in the face of the evidence.

Firstly, there's the way that they refer to the 18.5-25 BMI range. This may just be standard terminology for epidemiologists in Canada, but referring to it as the "acceptable" range is unusual. It's what "normal", it's more common name, means, of course, but it's unusual to see someone come right out and say it.

This is an important public health message, because while overweight may not be a risk factor for mortality, becoming overweight is a necessary step between being of acceptable weight and becoming obese.

This is key evidence of their assumptions. There's an initial assumption that being "obese" (categories 30-35 and 35+) is unhealthy. The relative risk of the 30-35 category is, within the bounds of statistical significance, exactly the same as the "acceptable" 18.5-25 category. The 25-30 category has less risk than either (though this is barely significant).

One could therefore equally phrase this in the opposite direction. Let's take a similar sentence with the same risk pattern to show just how absurd the conclusion is.

This is an important public health message, because while being hydrated may not be a risk factor for mortality, becoming hydrated is a necessary step between being acceptably dehydrated and dying of water poisoning.

The sentence only makes any sort of sense due to the power of "acceptable BMI" as a default, but even with that, it's still nonsensical: "we won't encourage behaviour that might be healthy, because if people do it too much, it's unhealthy again" (mind you, the same logic, if applied consistently, would also discourage attempts to lose weight, so maybe it's not all bad.)

Another bit that makes a similar lack of sense is this bit. As background, if you didn't read the entire paper yourself: they took people who reported their height and weight in 1994/5, and checked if they were still alive in 2006/7. They then used their 1994/5 BMI, among other factors, to determine the risk factors. This quote follows immediately on from the last one about public health:

Other analyses using the National Population Health Survey data demonstrated that almost a quarter of Canadians who had been overweight in 1994/1995 had become obese by 2002/2003 and Canadian adults within all BMI categories continue to gain weight.

They present this as a bad thing, of course, but of course they're not following through the logic enough. These people have gained weight relative to their starting weight, often by a sufficient margin to move them into a different category. They haven't died. This is not evidence that any of these are dangerous except for the prior assumption - which the data isn't supporting - that being "obese" is dangerous.

If the sample are generally gaining weight (and we'll assume, since it's a sample of adults, that most are not significantly changing height over the period of the study), that suggests that this effect is already accounted for in the relative risk. Looking at the age breakdown in Table 2 suggests this further: the relative risk associated with less than 18.5 BMI rises, and the relative risk associated with above 25 BMI generally falls, for the older part of the sample, which is what would be expected if gaining weight over time was common (though only one of these figures differs from the reference category by enough to be statistically significant).

It's worth noting, of course, from Table 1, that the people over 60 in Table 2 have a relative risk factor due to their age of between 10 and 100 compared with those under 60, which is not surprising, and would completely swamp any of the BMI risk factors - which as has already been said, are either barely significant or statistically insignificant - for any age band.

So we have a study that shows being "overweight" appears not to be harmful, and being "obese" largely appears not to be harmful, and a group of researchers trying to suggest other ways it might be harmful because they can't believe that the "acceptable" weight band could be anything other than the "best". It's a common pattern in weight-related research.

The power of the default and its assumptions are strong indeed, and so despite an increasing volume of studies showing that weight has virtually no effect on health, many of the major public health programs are trying to combat an illusory problem, with no effect other than to demonise a significant part of the population.

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Friday, 8 January 2010

Friday Links

"Friday" seems more accurate a description than "weekly".

Thursday, 7 January 2010

If you've something irrelevant to hide, you've everything to fear

[trigger warning]

Following the recent bombing attempt late last year, the UK government has said that it wants to make "full body scanners" required at all airports. They've been described as "virtual strip searches", which is a pretty accurate description from the photographs released of their operation.

They of course differ from a real strip search in a number of respects:

  • The process only takes a few seconds, and so is feasible to implement for everyone.
  • The process only takes a few seconds, and so it's going to be a lot easier for busy staff to miss something.
  • Because it consists of stepping into a device rather than going through the process of removing clothes, a significant number of people will just do it.

The similarities are more important than the differences, however.

Here's a quote from the Guardian:

Staff at Manchester airport pointed out that the images were deleted "within seconds" of being captured and checked and could not be stored.

It's almost certainly completely true that the scanner system itself displays the images and then deletes them. Careful design can ensure that the image data is never stored anywhere by the scanner system.

It is, however, displayed on a screen, for sufficient time for the operator to glance over it for explosives, suspicious objects, and numerous false positives. That's also long enough to snap a picture with a digital camera, especially with the suggestion of placing the operator in a separate room free from distractions to counteract the second point above.

The major problem with these devices - as with any search wildly disproportionate to the reasonable level of suspicion one might have - is that "nothing to hide" is quite a bit stronger than "nothing terrorism-related to hide". At least 99.99999% of air passengers are not terrorists (or at worst, are off-duty terrorists). The proportion of passengers who could be outed as intersex or trans or have some medical condition revealed is at least 1%. The Guardian article mentions that 92% of passengers are happy to be scanned this way. The governmentseems to be ignoring the obvious problem with this statistic:

  • The 92% of passengers who are happy to be scanned have nothing to hide of any sort.
  • The other 8% presumably have something to hide, which in many cases will be as straightforward as "what they look like naked". Of those 8%, fewer than 1 in 100,000 will be hiding anything terrorism related.
  • Therefore, for every terrorist caught, there will be around 100,000 unwanted invasions of privacy. We can add to that the various people in the 92% who don't want to be seen naked by security staff but are coerced into it out of fear that failing to do so will raise suspicion and be considerd cause for a physical strip search.
  • If we felt a 100,000:1 ratio of invasions of privacy to successes was reasonable as a society, then we'd just institute randomised crime searches: the police pick a random address, thoroughly search it - without the need for a warrant - for evidence of crimes, make any consequent arrests, and move on to the next random address.

All terrorism attempts in this country in recent years have been stopped significantly before the stage of "getting explosives onto a plane", which as has been said is about the only terror-related thing you can do with planes nowadays that stands a chance of working.

There have been terrorism attempts in this country in recent years that have succeeded in causing deaths or injuries. The major thing they've had in common - from the 7 July bombers to the various paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland - is a distinct lack of planes. Even the Glasgow attack (which wasn't very successful) didn't quite involve planes. This says to me that - in the UK, anyway - airport security, combined with anti-terrorism investigations, is already more than sufficiently strong to prevent terrorist attacks on aircraft.

Given that, introducing further security measures that will probably, over the next ten to twenty years, prevent absolutely no terrorism whatsoever, but put several people's lives at risk for other reasons, seems the worst sort of security theatre. If the government feels that routine strip searches of passengers are genuinely necessary to the security of aircraft then they should just institute routine physical strip searches of all passengers at airports. Perhaps that would make it clearer just how disproportionate this is.

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We're not sufficiently unfriendly yet, then

So, a group of 20 MPs and peers has called for immigration to be capped to keep the UK population below 70 million.

Last year the Office for National Statistics said, if current trends continued, the UK population would rise by 10 million to more than 71.6 million by 2033 - the fastest rise in a century.

Now, firstly, of course, the latest ONS report says that last year's current trends, unsurprisingly, didn't in fact continue, and the population estimates have been revised downwards considerably. It's likely, therefore, that no matter what anyone does, the UK population will stay below 70 million for some time to come. The government can therefore do absolutely nothing and meet this policy anyway.

This doesn't stop this group making some unpleasant and inconsistent arguments to advance their case for a formal cap. After denying that this is about limiting non-Christian immigration, Lord Carey goes on:

But, he said, immigrants must "understand" the UK's culture, including parliamentary democracy "which is built upon Christian heritage", "our commitment to the English language" and an understanding of the country's history.

Much easier, of course, for immigrants from English-speaking majority-Christian countries such as the US or many Commonwealth countries, than for others. But this isn't about limiting non-Christian immigration at all. Really.

The system should not "give preference to any particular group", he said, but added that points-based immigration could take these cultural aspects into consideration.

So, they want to take cultural aspects into consideration in a way that gives certain people an advantage, but they don't want there to be an overall bias. I wonder what bonus points that are really hard for English-speaking Christians to pick up they want to include.

He added that immigration was an issue that mattered to "ordinary working-class people" and that it was important to tackle "that kind of resentment which could build and is building up already".

It's resentment that's building up because no prominent politician is willing to publicly challenge the myths around immigration and to argue that it's a good thing for the country, and a lot of unchallenged and generally accepted racism used to argue that it's a bad thing. So instead you have people arguing that we must cap our population at an arbitrary figure or some loosely specified crisis will ensue. What happens at 70 million that doesn't happen in largely the same way at 69 or 71? But no, round number equals crisis.

Lord Carey said too much population growth in the UK could foster "dangerous social conditions", with some minority ethnic groups, such as young Muslim men, suffering "disproportionate" unemployment.

So, some groups are disproportionately unemployed, for a number of complex reasons including racism in the recruitment process and racism and classism in the country more generally. The solution to this, apparently, should be to stop any more people from those groups coming to the country. I'm not sure how that will help either the people from those groups already here, or the potential immigrants we would reject under this policy, or indeed anyone else.

The high unemployment rate (which has also risen disproportionately during the recession) is a real problem, but the solution is definitely not to reinforce the existing racism by suggesting that further immigration from those groups should be heavily restricted. Furthermore, this high unemployment rate is also a problem for people whose families have been in the country for decades or centuries - it's not a case of people immigrating here and then being unable to find work.

"Poll after poll shows the public to be deeply concerned about immigration and its impact on our population."

I've done a few polls with questions about this myself for YouGov. The question they ask - and it may be different for other polling agencies - is to list a number of areas of government policy (health, education, defence, employment, etc.) including immigration, and to tick those that you are concerned about (or the three that you're most concerned about, sometimes).

I am quite concerned about the government's immigration policy - especially the horrific mess that is our asylum process, which is on many occasions intentionally inhumane. I never tick the "concerned about immigration" boxes on the surveys because there is such a strong assumption that anyone ticking that box does so because they think there is too much immigration. Pretending to be apathetic on those issues, while technically incorrect, seems safer.

"It is time parties turned their rhetoric into reality by making manifesto commitments to prevent our population reaching 70 million by 2029."

Well, yes, this is the core of the problem, isn't it. The government doesn't - as such - have a general problem with immigration or immigrants. The largest category of migrants to the UK is international students, who the government is very happy to have in the country because many pay substantial fees to universities, and in many cases effectively subsidise the Higher Education system for UK students.

On the other hand, the major parties believe that racism is a vote-winner (and most of the major newspapers try to push them this way), which means that they have to publicly come out against immigration in terms of rhetoric, and try to restrict it in areas that don't have that much actual effect, or against immigrants they don't particularly care about (asylum seekers, for instance).

Obviously, the actual effect of the policies doesn't match the rhetoric. I'd like to see the rhetoric adjusted to match the policies - for politicans to publicly state that the vast majority of immigration is either clearly economically beneficial to the country, or morally necessary as decent humans, since the alternative is to give in to the demands to adjust the policies to match the rhetoric. When the majority of the groups given press attention are calling for harsher policies, though, this is unlikely.

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Monday, 4 January 2010

The hidden threat of shoes

From the BBC:

With a top walking speed of around 4 miles per hour, you might think it was hard to walk dangerously. No official statistics exist for the number of accidents involving walkers, but there are tales from around the country of people walking into lampposts, along busy roads, and even people walking off railway platforms. There have even been injuries to other pedestrians.

Since shoes are exempt from the Road Traffic Act, the police have been powerless to act against their wearers.

The level of concern is such that in February a committee of MPs will begin an inquiry looking at safety implications. One of the issues they will examine is whether shoe wearers should get some kind of formal training before going out on to the streets.

The idea is already being put into practice by Norfolk Police and a handful of other forces. "In the market place if you speak to the traders they will always tell you a tale of their vegetables being knocked over or people being run into by pedestrians," says Penny Carpenter, of Norfolk Police.

Jeff Ennis MP (Barnsley East & Mexborough, Labour) is hoping for a debate on the issue in the House of Commons later this month. "Although retailers do give some kind of training it is by no means mandatory," he says. "So what I think we need is some kind of cycle proficiency test for shoes." On top of that he believes a "three-strikes-and-you-are-out" rule should be enforced to weed those who prove to be a danger to themselves and everyone else.

Unsurprisingly there is some dissent from users. Many agree something needs to be done to improve safety, but most are wary of any threat to take away their shoes.

No, that wasn't actually the article. This is the real article, in which the BBC reports on concerns about mobility scooter users (they've allowed comments, with predictable results) under the headline "A mobility scooter menace?" with link text elsewhere on the site "3-wheeled threat". Lovely.

The thinking around this, of course, is packed full of ableism and looking at the issue from entirely the wrong perspective, which leads Jeff Ennis MP to his draconian and inhumane proposals.

  • Cycling, to which this MP makes a comparison, is really not the same. Driving, to which he makes an implicit comparison, is even less comparable. He's suggesting with "three strikes" that there be a tougher threshold for scooter users than for drivers - which considering the significant difference in the consequences of accidents is completely unjustifiable. Taking away someone's only realistic means of leaving their house should be reserved for people who actually need placing under house arrest (criminalising people for being disabled is not new, of course).
  • There are no statistics currently being collected. All there is instead is a collection of anecdotes, which have a large amount of selection bias. "I was knocked aside by someone jogging to catch the bus" never makes it as a newspaper story. How dangerous are pedestrians, both to each other and to scooter users? It's also not known, so let's ban shoes as a precautionary measure, okay? Even despite this selection bias, very few serious accidents are recorded.
  • The training courses are a good idea, of course, for those who want them. Reading the description, though, notice how many of the challenges might be realistic but are avoidable by better urban design and practice. Why is the parking space so narrow and after a sharp left turn? Who left all of these roadworks signs in the way in the first place? Shouldn't the pedestrians also be getting training in "pavement ettiquete"?
  • Notice that most of the descriptions of accidents - collisions with objects, driving in unsafe places - involve only risk to property or the scooter user themselves. That's risk that should be reduced if possible, of course - but not by confining the scooter user to their home! There have been a few serious injuries and deaths - but probably no more than are caused by pedestrians or cyclists, and massively fewer than the thousands each year caused by motor vehicles.

    As a pedestrian I've walked into various pieces of street furniture, and the occasional wall, on several occasions. I've also accidentally jostled people in crowds. More than three times, too!

  • I find extremely dubious the assertion that it is impossible to prosecute scooter users for the accidents they cause. It may not be possible to prosecute under the Road Traffic Act, but there will be existing legislation suitable for a prosecution if it is considered in the public interest to do so. There are, apparently, laws against causing injury or death without using a vehicle already on the statute books.

So, on the basis of no evidence, a bunch of selectively found anecdotes, and a lot of unnecessary fear, there is a growing call to make people's lives even more difficult than society already makes them.

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