As another year comes to an end, our trade leans back on the ropes gasping for more air to continue our fight for survival.
And what a difficult year we have endured too. I used to blame paranoia for thinking the whole establishment were against The London Taxi Trade, but never have I been convinced as much as I am now, that the Transport For London Master plan, is to eradicate us totally. Looking back over 2014, that master plan is in full roll and hurtling down the track.
I am the first to admit that it wasn’t all strawberries and cream under command and responsibility of the Metropolitan Police, but there cannot be many in our ranks who wouldn’t go back to the old days like a shot, if we were able.
From the day that TFL took control of our profession, we have seen our world famous respected institution abused, disrespected and buggered.
Taking command of such a structured and valued iconic speciality, requires structured and specialist commanders to direct and control it.
It should come as no surprise then, to see the legacy of The Protector Oliver Cromwell, dissected, smashed onto the ropes and almost ruined, when inexperienced career chasing civil servants and bus enthusiasts are appointed to punch way above their weight, taking us out on the way.
After all, why on earth would anyone who is so passionate about buses, give any care or professional respect to London Taxi Cabs?
That’s a bit like a member of Greenpeace going out for a drink with a commercial Tuna Fisherman…..isn’t it ? And yet, not only do the Bus Boys control and licence us, but are doing a damn good job of making sure we are extinct too. If that isn’t a conspiracy theory, then mine’s a bloater !
I have never directly criticised any of our trade organisations, or the faces behind them. I personally know many of our colleagues in all different unions and clubs that work tirelessly behind the glare of fame, in an effort to gain more of a professional footing.
However, and honestly, with the greatest respect to all of them, there hasn’t been enough power in the charge, to make a difference that is outstanding and sound enough from any of them. A confidence to give rank and file drivers an optimistic future. A future where they would encourage their sons or daughters to start the knowledge, a future where they would borrow 100 grand mortgage with assurance, a future where they can plan and coordinate their retirements, holidays and financial commitments with confidence and belief in not only their profession, but the future and longevity of it.
It has been almost five years ago that I wrote that Men were Coming To Kill Us. During this year, it has become apparent to all of us, that we are well and truly surrounded.
There are so many pressures against us out there now, that only a realistic and profound challenge will clear the road forward for us all.
All of us with a badge around our neck will be only too aware of how much heartache, pressure, time and commitment was involved to allow us the privileged and sole rights to ply our superior knowledge and cab’s for hire, under Hackney Carriage Laws that are etched in stone.
We knew the rules before we started. We discussed it with our loved ones. We decided that the huge input of time and financial cost would be worth the pride and professional elite status, and so embarked upon the long road ahead, to become one of London’s finest.
It is no surprise then, that when a mini cab firm comes along with a huge financial backing from the banks and other investors, and to add insult, sporting an illegal meter, that our backs should be rubbed up the wrong way, and disenchantment would take root.
Surprisingly, not only did the Bus Boys from TFL give them an Operators Licence, they blatantly welcomed them with open arms. Even though their counterfeit meter was drenched in world controversy.
To anyone who had worked their pipe out to complete the gruelling London Knowledge, this was a kick in the teeth not just for us, but our families and loved ones who had encouraged and supported us through four or five years of purgatory.
The Bus Boys at TFL had more or less made it clear that the message was, don’t bother doing the knowledge as we have just undermined everything you worked hard for. If Uber can tear the Hackney Carriage legislation up, then so can anyone else with a few quid in their bank accounts, whether its registered in the Netherlands or Norwood.
Behind the scenes in this trade, I have many good friends, a lot of them in positions of leadership and example. They have often criticised my militant stance, and explained that dialogue with the authorities, meeting with politicians, lobbying through constituent Members of Parliament and media consultation is the future and the way forward for our battered profession to make progress.
Out of respect, and a realisation that we are indeed part of a democratic society, I listened and supported my learned colleagues.
As this year draws to a close though, and with my hand on my heart, I believe our lobbying and meetings have fallen on deaf ears. As a result of an imminent defeat, the natural militant attitude that I harbour, comes racing to the fore.
Let me make a parallel. A little over dramatic, but the principles remain the same.
At 11.30 on Wednesday morning 30th April 1980, six armed Iranian gunmen calling themselves The Democratic Revolutionary Front For Arabistan, raided the Iranian Embassy In Princes Gate.
Within a few minutes, they had held the embassy under siege, and taken the 26 people in the property as hostages.
Very soon, the Metropolitan Police under the command of Assistant Commissioner John Dellow, had surrounded the embassy and taken operational control outside the building. Many specialists were in attendance that day. Police marksmen, negotiators, psychiatrists, and many other specialists, expert in the field of negotiating.
The hostages demanded that political prisoners be released from various prisons in Iran, and their safe passage from the UK guaranteed and failure to meet their demands would result in the hostages being killed and the embassy blown up.
Commissioner Dellow’s team worked flat out attempting to convince the terrorists that they should give up. Just like the Bus Boys, they were having none of it.
That Wednesday turned into, Thursday, into Friday into Saturday, into Sunday into Monday………….with absolutely no progress whatsoever. By this time, the Iranians were getting restless and threatened to kill a hostage if their demands were not met on the day. Dellow’s officers could only watch, wait and attempt to negotiate.
Later that day, the terrorists crossed the invisible line. Three shots rang out, and the body of a hostage was slung out the front door.
The Government’s emergency panel COBRA were watching this unfold with fear and panic. After the hostage was shot, the then police commissioner David McNee contacted Willie Whitelaw the Home Secretary to say that he felt he had no option but to hand the job over to the SAS.
B Squadron just so happened to be on Anti Terrorist duties at the time, and as the saga at the embassy unfolded, four unmarked range rovers were already speeding east bound up the M4 from Hereford.
The rest is history. On the given command, troopers from B Squadron abseiled down from the roof, blew the Iranian Embassy windows out, killed all the terrorists barring one, rescued the hostages and were being de-briefed at Regents Park Barracks within the hour. The whole operation codenamed “Nimrod” took less than 12 minutes ! Job done ! A siege that had gone on requiring massive resources for almost 6 days, was concluded in less than 12 minutes, because the team from B Squadron were intent on getting what they had travelled from Hereford for.
Iv’e never been a fan of constant dialogue and blah blah blah politics, especially as I witness our trade eroding as it all takes place. Neither have I ever been a fan of half hearted taxi demos. They are easy to control by the police, very rarely achieve much worth talking about and have often caused divide within our ranks.
However, I have always maintained that a demo of London Taxis of say 10 or 15 thousand cabs, would leave the incompetents who control us, no other option but to listen.
15000 London Taxis in the middle of London on a perfectly legal democratic and peaceful demonstration would cause utter breakdown of trade, commerce and industry in our capital.
Make no mistake folks, our trade is under siege and we are losing. A demo of this size would require total trade unity and support. No egos, no lanyard colour football mentality, no mine is bigger than yours…………..just 100% trade solidarity and unity.
If we were able to pull that off, the civil servants would show an immediate desire to talk sense with us, trust me. London simply couldn’t afford to be held to ransom without the hierarchy holding emergency meetings to see what we were disenchanted with.
In my mind, we have nothing to lose. If we don’t do something, our trade will be all over in a year or two from now.
We have no guns, we have no stun grenades and we have no bullets.
But what we do have is strength in our numbers, solidarity, pride, and a duty of care for our 400 year old heritage. The unity of one and all having toiled, worked, sweated, and suffered for four years or more to go about our business without fear of malicious neglect, incompetence and worry.
TFL are walking all over our trade in a bullying, couldn’t care less attitude.
I worked hard for my badge. I put a lot into it. My kids were only little at the time, and as adults they can still call over many of the runs, such was their misery at having to listen to it every night.
Im proud of my badge. Proud of my profession and proud of its history.
Wev’e tried dialogue, we’ve tried negotiating, we’ve tried going to the meetings, we’ve tried the lobbying, we’ve tried writing to our MP’s, we’ve tried to be civil………………and we are getting slaughtered !
Maybe it’s time to blow the windows out.
A truly united demo of 15000 cabs in London next year would guarantee our survival. It’s up to us to decide whether we can be bothered or not.
May I wish all our colleagues green and yellow badges, of all unions, clubs and associations, a very healthy and prosperous New Year.
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
Men are Coming To Kill Us. Let’s Give Them A Hiding !
Be Lucky all. Stay safe.