Talking politics with strangers
Approaching a stranger to ask for their signature and contact details is pretty daunting when you think there’s a 50/50 chance that they’ll hate everything about you.
As the headline suggests, I usually publish this newsletter on a Friday, but I’ve got whatever the cycling equivalent of jetlag is. Bikelag.
Thighs of Steel finish our world record attempt on 18 September, so expect normal service to resume when I’ve recovered from that. Sometime in 2043, then.
Talking politics with strangers
On Wednesday, we stayed with the wonderful Christine and Hayden in Alton (home of Sweet FA). We shovelled down a spectacular dinner in double quick time: Christine had invited a circle of friends to listen to our stories from the road.
I hadn’t prepared a Powerpoint, so instead I gave a impromptu bugle recital and a depressing speech about the Nationality and Borders Bill.
One of the high points of this bike trip is having conversations about immigration and asylum with the people we meet.
It’s great that everyone knows at least vaguely what’s going on in Afghanistan at the moment, but not so many people understand how our government is ripping up the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.
So here’s my bullet point digest for you to share with friends:
The new Nationality and Borders Bill is in direct contravention of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. This strikes me as a bit of a shame, given that the UK was one of only ten original signatories of this landmark document.
The new Bill creates a two-tiered asylum system that distinguishes claims based on the means of entry to the UK rather than by whether the human being entering is actually in need of asylum. This prejudice is explicitly forbidden by Article 31 of the 1951 Convention.
Should the new Bill pass, the only admissable refugees will be the few who arrive here on painfully limited resettlement schemes. For example, the government has committed to resettle 20,000 Afghans over ‘the coming years’.
The UK currently stands in nineteenth place in the European league table of asylum applications per capita of population, below Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria, Malta, Italy, Finland… You get the point.
Even if the government’s resettlement promises can be trusted — which they manifestly can’t — the new Bill would send the UK spiralling even further down the list of safe nations for those fleeing war.
Furthermore, under the new Bill, those who enter the UK ‘irregularly’ — i.e. without a passport and visa — will have their asylum cases deemed ‘inadmissable’ and the government will try to deport them.
If you are a refugee, it is essentially impossible to enter the UK with a passport and visa. Do you imagine those fleeing Afghanistan had time to apply for a visa on their way out? The result: the asylum claim of every refugee coming to this country under their own steam will be ‘inadmissable’.
If the government simply can’t get rid of them (because their freakin homes are on fire!), then these people will be allowed to apply for asylum… but…
Even if these irregular arrivals are ultimately awarded refugee status, they will never be given the right to settle here and will be regularly reassessed for removal. Again: this prejudice is explicitly forbidden by the 1951 Convention because it’s manifestly unfair.
The British were very successful at promulgating the myth that their Empire was founded on good will and fair play. This was always a gargantuan lie, but it’s a lie that this government seems particularly eager to expose with the extraordinary cruelty and arbitrary injustice of its Nationality and Borders Bill.
Every time we stop the GPS for a bike break — lunch wraps, punctures, bedtime — we need to get our logbook signed off by a member of the public. This means that we talk to a lot of people about what we’re doing.
At the beginning of the trip, we were both a bit worried about discussing refugees with any old stranger on the street.
The anti-immigration, anti-asylum right wing press is the most popular in the country and, naturally, we thought that these newspapers would reflect the views of their readers. Not only that, but the elected government of this country is run by a man that the BBC can, without fear of slander, describe as ‘a liar and a racist’.
Therefore, basic probability told us that a good chunk of our unsuspecting witnesses would hold strong, negative views on the right of refugees to claim asylum in this country.
Approaching a stranger to ask for their signature and contact details is pretty daunting when you think there’s a 50/50 chance that they’ll hate everything about what you’re doing.
As the trip has gone on, however, we’ve come to the heartening conclusion that The Daily Mail and the Conservative Party can’t possibly reflect the real views of the people of this country.
We’ve not done a survey, but it’s statistically fantastic that zero of the 114 people in our witness book neither read the country’s most popular newspapers nor vote for the most popular political party.
Yet the vast majority of people we’ve met on this bike ride show great compassion towards those forced to flee their homes. Indeed: most people tell us that they think the government should be doing more to help.
This government, and the billionaire-owned press that goads them on, are not only heartlessly vindictive, but they foment a social atmosphere that divides us and makes us scared to share our true political beliefs with each other.
This trip has not only given me the strength to approach strangers and open up political conversations, but also the confidence that they won’t rip my head off. Far from it.
If we are going to defeat the Nationality and Borders Bill — and the countless others that this government are yet to write — then we need to be able to trust each other.
This bike trip has shown me that we can.
Every Dylan Album
Bob Dylan has published one studio album for every year that I’ve been alive. So I’m going to write something entertaining about each of them, publishing every week from 20 September 2021 until the week of my fortieth birthday.
On Every Dylan Album I’ll select, dissect and inspect all thirty-nine studio albums that Bob Dylan has ever recorded. Yep: even the crap ones. Especially the crap ones.
My Next Adventure…?
My first mega bike tour was born of laziness. I’d seen an article on the BBC about a kid who got into trouble at sea on a stolen boat and was raising money for the air ambulance that rescued him by walking around the coast of Britain with his pet dog.
I didn’t have the courage for a nine month hike, so I decided to cycle the 6,500km instead.
Here’s my new inspiration:
100 Days of Adventure
Go Flight Free in 2022
Sign the pledge and help make kerosene history.
This time next week, all being well, we’ll be cycling the ‘L’ in ‘Welcome’, a ridiculous ride in an arrow-straight line from Farnborough to Chichester, followed by a pootle along the coast to Havant.
It’s not too late for you to help us make Refugees Welcome. Just pop along to thighsofsteel.com/worldrecord. Cheers!