Norman Baker MP, liberalism and bicycle helmets

You may not have heard of Norman Baker. He is the member of parliament for the town of Lewes in East Sussex. He is also a junior minister in the Department of Transport. Among his responsibilities is the promotion of cycling. Admirably, he cycles himself – he’s not one of those ‘do what I say, not what I do’ politicians.

Norman Baker is also a member of the Liberal Democrat party, a party that despite currently forming a coalition with the Conservative Party, thinks of itself as the heir to the great liberal tradition of British political thought, from John Locke to John Stuart Mill and beyond. As such we should expect that he espouses liberalism. One of the essential questions of liberalism is framed by Isaiah Berlin:

“What is the area within which the subject — a person or group of persons — is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?”

Norman Baker, like most British cyclists – and Dutch and Danish cyclists, come to that – rides a bicycle without wearing a helmet. Yet he has recently been the subject of criticism in the media for saying so.

He has not told anyone else what they should do, rather he has explained that he’s made his own decision on the matter, and others are free to do the same. A very liberal point of view.

In choosing to ride without a helmet, it seems Norman Baker is not alone among politicians.

David Cameron and George Osborne ride bikes

Boris Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger ride bikes

George (Lord) Young rides a bike - 14 miles a day from Acton to Westminster and back, pigeons permitting

Quintin Hogg (Lord Hailsham) rides a bike

Tory grandee Quintin Hogg (Lord Hailsham) rides a bike, wearing a bowler

And it’s not just Tory toffs and Austro-Californian hard men who choose to enjoy the wind in their hair.

Nicolas Sarkozy rides a bike

Barack Obama rides a bike

Norman Baker is making the case for the freedom to choose. And one of the things about freedom is that we are free to choose differently.

George W Bush rides a bike