UK aviation policy is primarily predicated on the requirements of airport operators, major airlines and the Treasury – the needs of passengers come last says Steve Beauchampé in The Birmingham Press.
The government’s long-awaited – and unsurprising – decision to proceed with construction of a third runway at London Heathrow is fundamentally flawed, supported with redundant arguments and highly questionable financial assessments. If the UK had a comprehensive and comprehensible national aviation strategy Heathrow would not be operating at anything like 95% of capacity.
That it does so is the result of a system that essentially forces millions of UK passengers per annum to travel long distances, often in arduous and stressful conditions, to use both Heathrow and London’s two other main airports (Gatwick and Stansted) at great cost both to themselves and the environment. rather than utilising their local airports, many of which are working to a fraction of their capability.
Birmingham International Airport handled 12.9m passengers in 2017 but could cope with around double that number. Meanwhile, Nottingham East Midlands welcomed a paltry 4.88m whilst major population centres such as in the North East, South West, South Wales and along the south coast are all but bereft of decent flight choices. This is not only down to the London-centric approach which blights so many activities in the UK, but the failure of successive governments to challenge and take on the vested interests of London airports and the major airlines.
Two key arguments put forward in favour of a third runway at Heathrow are particularly fallacious
The first is that Heathrow must continue developing as a ‘hub’ airport, competing for passengers not with Birmingham, Manchester or even Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, but with Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dublin and increasingly Dubai!
So a third (and later probably fourth and fifth) runway at Heathrow is essentially required to allow the airport’s operator Heathrow Airport Holdings to attract passengers who will never leave the airport environs but whose visit is solely to transfer from one aeroplane to another, Great news for HAH, who enjoy increased landing fees as a result, and good news for the Treasury, who collect airport tax each time that a passenger takes a flight.
But it is hardly good news for UK travellers who are not being provided with flights from their local airports to the locations that they want and at a time when they want to fly. Indeed the hub strategy encourages those in the north of England, Northern Island and Scotland to take domestic flights to Heathrow and then transfer planes to reach their ultimate destination.
Yet hub airports may soon be an outdated concept, with technological improvements meaning that modern aeroplanes will be able to fly further (and faster) without the need to refuel (it’s already possible to fly non-stop from London to Sydney). Point-to-point flying seems more likely to be the way ahead.
The second argument in favour of Heathrow runway expansion is that many airlines do not want to fly out of the UK’s ‘regional’ airports (with the possible exception of Manchester, which handled 27.7m passengers in 2017) and would be unwilling to give up valuable landing slots at Heathrow.
But this argument is unacceptable. We would not tolerate train operators refusing to serve smaller stations nor bus companies running services only on main routes. To combat this attitude the number of slots available at Heathrow needs to be limited rather than endlessly expanded, whilst the national airport strategy that Conservative MP and anti-Heathrow Runway 3 campaigner Justine Greening called for earlier this week should focus on ways to create an environment which encourages airlines to relocate services outside of London and the South East.
This is particularly apposite given that both Birmingham and Manchester airports will be stops on the HS2 network by 2030. And whilst there is a real risk that limiting slots at Heathrow will result in some airlines pulling routes and services out of the UK altogether, the country is a large enough aviation market to offer sufficient paths to profit that most such withdrawals will likely be less than crucial and, in some cases, perhaps temporary.
In agreeing to support Heathrow’s third runway the government have committed to paying £2.6bn in compensation to those communities near to the airport that will be destroyed or significantly affected by the project. To which can be added an estimated £10bn in public funding for the new infrastructure and environmental measures required to support the expansion.
How much better to invest this money throughout the UK to create a national airport infrastructure to meet the needs of the travelling public, and one befitting the world’s fifth largest economy.
As Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press and Political Concern, generations of an elite have ruled this nation (with a few intermissions) for as long as anyone can remember, due to a rigged electoral system.
Their dual achievements:
- comfortable tax arrangements for the few, a political/corporate nexus which ensures highly paid and nominal duties for all in the inner circle
- vast military expenditure bestowed on the arms industry, as rising numbers of the population survive in relative poverty, wait in hospital corridors, receive a sub-standard education and depend on handouts to eke out their existence.
Direction of travel
Beauchampé: “(The) economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China . . . The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows . . . “He notes that surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and even microphones installed in many public places -describing the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations as ‘frightening’. . .
The elite stranglehold could be broken
OB’s editor agrees with many that electoral reform is a priority for beneficial change – but even under the rigged ‘first past the post’ system, if the weary mass of people (Brenda of Bristol) saw the true situation they would vote for the candidate with a credible track record who would be most likely to work for the common good.
The recent by-elections gave cover for the latest government announcement of emergency legislation inflicting further cuts on disabled people – ‘a good day to bury bad news’.
Two tribunals had ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the reach of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – which helps disabled people fund their living costs.
- One ruling found that someone who needed support at home to take medication or monitor a health condition like diabetes would score the same on the benefits criteria as people who needed help with a demanding procedure such as kidney dialysis.
- A second ruling said people who struggled to travel independently because of conditions such as anxiety scored the same as someone who was, for example, blind.
Ministers then swiftly revised the law to deny the increased benefit payments to more than 150,000 people.
A Lib Dem work and pensions spokeswoman said it was outrageous that the government was using the ruling to make matters worse for disabled people: “What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of [Thursday’s] by-elections.”
From April, it is reported that new claimants will see a reduction of £29.05 in their entitlement, which will fall to £73.10 a week. This follows on from the cuts that the DWP tried to implement last year, which resulted in Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation.
Liz Sayce from Disability Rights UK said: “We’re not aware of one single disability employment or benefits expert who thinks this particular cut will be an incentive for disabled people to get a job.”
Unfortunately this logic, and a host of scathing comments seen in the Metro won’t pierce the thick skins of affluent legislators and further deprivation will hit the least fortunate in many sectors.
One-party rule for the foreseeable future?
On Sunday evening two of our readers were considering the future and seeing no possibility of anything other than an elective dictatorship, after boundary changes expected to boost the Conservatives by 20 English seats.
The younger generation and their children will bear the brunt
As yet, most people in their 20s and 30s merely express mild concern about this prospect – they don’t seem to realise the implications of such apathy for all who are not wealthy, not of Oxbridge/Russell Group ability or not in good health.
Award-winning journalist Matthew Norman has asked three questions:
How long do you think it will be before a party other than the Conservatives is in position to form a government?
Can you imagine it within two decades, or three?
Can you envisage it in your lifetime at all?
An article he wrote last February referred to “our enfeebled democracy” and his sense that “Britain is shuffling on its Zimmer towards one-party statehood”. The points made included:
- Labour is politically wounded by its huge losses in Scotland.
- Labour has also been financially weakened by the Government’s Trade Union Bill halving what it gets from the unions.
- Government will continue to sidestep the Commons by using statutory instruments and
- threaten to create new peers whenever the Lords don’t rubberstamp cruel and oppressive measures.
- Government will inflict more austerity on the poorest, continue to award beneficial concessions for the richest
- and allow the health of city dwellers and the climate to be even more affected by many forms of pollution which benefit big business.
Matthew Norman finds it “incredibly depressing . . . that no one gives a damn”
The writer puts it more mildly, like Yeats she finds that: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”.
Democracy appears to be doomed – unless the cross-party alliance to promote electoral reform gains ground.
Calls for a progressive alliance are coming in. Today, a Green House alert included news that the case for cross-party working and why it could be a game-changer will be examined on 2-4 September at the University of Birmingham (Edgbaston campus) at the Green Party’s Autumn Conference, when Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, will be joined on the panel by Labour MP Lisa Nandy, former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Chris Bowers, Neil Lawson, Chair of Compass, and Rupert Read, Chair of the Green House think-tank.
Professor Paul Rogers has reflected on the shifting of the tectonic plates:
“Within the Labour Party, ward after ward is witnessing the impact of new membership but, more importantly, seeing a remarkable degree of anger at what the government has enacted since the election and the palpable lack of opposition by Labour in the midst of its protracted leadership campaign. Many Labour members (Ed: and many not in the party) are angry at:
- the intended review of NHS funding involving accelerated privatisation,
- the sell-off of housing-association stock,
- the constant blaming of the “feckless poor”
- and the renewed assault on labour rights.
At the same time, inheritance tax is reduced, bank bonuses are rising, tax avoidance is the order of the day, and the Financial Conduct Authority looks set to relax even its modest regulatory grip. Among these and many other indicators of a move to the right, no wonder the Tories’ claimed long-term aim of a “living wage” is treated with deep suspicion.
Journalist and documentary producer Peter Hitchens sees the need for a new approach as “both major parties have been taken over by the same cult, the Clinton-Blair fantasy that globalism, open borders and mass immigration will save the great nations of the West”.
He continues: “It hasn’t worked. In the USA it has failed so badly that the infuriated, scorned, impoverished voters of Middle America are on the point of electing a fake-conservative yahoo businessman as President”.
Many will agree with Hitchens’ reflection that – so far – we have been gentler with our complacent elite, perhaps too gentle. He sees the referendum majority for leaving the EU as a deep protest against many things and forecasts:
“If Mr Corbyn wins, our existing party system will begin to totter. The Labour Party must split between old-fashioned radicals like him, and complacent smoothies from the Blair age. And since (Blairite Labour MPs) have far more in common with Mrs May than with Mr Corbyn, there is only one direction they can take. They will have to snuggle up beside her absurdly misnamed Conservative Party.
“And so at last the British public will see clearly revealed the truth they have long avoided – that the two main parties are joined in an alliance against them. And they may grasp that their only response is to form an alliance against the two big parties. Impossible? Look how quickly this happened in Scotland”.
On 14th July a Moseley reader emailed to say “Theresa May’s speech yesterday sounded more left wing than your mate JC!”
My reply was a one year snapshot of her actions in office which belied this humanitarian stance, published earlier on this site:
- In 2010 she suspended the registration scheme for carers of children and vulnerable people.
- On 4 August 2010 it was reported that May was scrapping the former Labour Government’s proposed “go orders” scheme to protect women from domestic violence by banning abusers from the victim’s home.
- This was followed on 6 August 2010 by the closure of the previous Government’s “ContactPoint” database of 11 million under-18-year olds designed to protect children in the wake of the Victoria Climbiéchild abuse scandal.
“Rewarding hard-working people with higher wages”.
This is another of Ms May’s Corbyn-like soundbites made shortly after Corbyn’s description of what he saw as the difference between the Conservative and Labour offerings, in the form of a question:
“Do you want to be bargain-basement Britain on the edge of Europe, cutting corporate taxation, having very low wages, having grotesque inequalities of wealth? Or do you want to be a high-wage, high-investment economy that actually does provide decent chances and opportunities for all?”
We read that Theresa May has launched a cabinet committee on the economy and industrial strategy, which she is to chair; it will bring together the heads of more than ten departments and focus on “rewarding hard-working people with higher wages”.
Is Corbyn the most powerful, though least acknowledged of Theresa May’s advisers on the political economy?
If only she would heed him on nuclear and foreign policy issues.
All Labour MPs, councillors and party activists who have ‘learned little from the excitement, energy and debate generated by the recent national leadership campaign’ please note
Steve Beauchampé observes, in the Birmingham Press:
“Regrettably it would appear that West Midlands Labour has learned little from the excitement, energy and debate generated by the recent national leadership campaign when eventual winner Jeremy Corbyn spoke to packed and overflowing halls nationwide, including in Birmingham, and party membership soared to its highest level for decades.
“Were the West Midlands Labour Party asleep all last summer?”
He describes the decision by West Midlands Labour Party officials to bar those candidates standing to succeed Sir Albert Bore as leader of the Labour group on Birmingham City Council from taking part in public hustings as portraying ‘what remains of democratically accountable politics in Birmingham’ in a very poor light.
This, though at least four of the five candidates – Councillors John Clancy, Barry Henley, Penny Holbrook, Mike Leddy and Ian Ward – appear to have been willing to participate in such a debate. One event had already been announced and a second was apparently being planned.
Steve continues: “It is a missed opportunity to reinvigorate the body politic, which in Birmingham has been largely moribund for a long time, thus creating a situation whereby the current government feels able to circumvent the will of the city’s electorate and barely a word of protest is heard”.
How different from the current Labour leader’s aspiration:
Beauchampé touches on “a decade and a half of unwarranted and unwanted restructuring and interference by central government, including the imposition of the Leader and Cabinet system of governance, the wholesale privatisation and outsourcing of public services and the ongoing, ideologically driven, seismic cuts in central government funding (which) have eroded and emaciated local government, and with it key parts of its democratic structures and accountability. Adding substantially to this meddlesome litany is Chancellor George Osborne’s imposition in all but name of metro mayors upon regions whose electorate roundly and democratically rejected the mayoral model just three years earlier”.
Read more about the city’s situation by following the Press link.
Steve Beauchampé ends: “One local political website has suggested that Labour’s hustings decision signals the death of democracy in the city. Well no, but it is a missed opportunity to reinvigorate the body politic, which in Birmingham has been largely moribund for a long time, thus creating a situation whereby the current government feels able to circumvent the will of the city’s electorate and barely a word of protest is heard”.
The Birmingham Labour Party has now announced that there will after all be a public hustings although the date and venue are yet to be confirmed.