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Airport expansion based on Toryspeak

A phony war between London Mayor Boris Johnson’s proposed Thames Estuary island airport and the Heathrow third runway has been made the focus of debate over airport expansion.

In other words, the discussion has been diverted to be about where it will be rather than whether it is wanted at all.

We know in advance the answer that will come from the commission on airport capacity chaired by former Financial Services Authority chair Sir Howard Davis. They will vote for Heathrow – that is what they are there for.

The commission has been warned not to report until 2015 so the government can claim to be sticking to the Coalition deal ruling out airport expansion. It will also avoid a by-election in Zac Goldsmith’s Richmond seat. The Tory MP had said he’ll resign and stand as an independent if the government commits to the third runway.

Chancellor George Osborne is Heathrow’s big supporter because it’s an apparently simple way of trying to get growth back in the economy and the banks, airport industry and construction companies want it.

Osborne made clear at the weekend that he thinks Heathrow is the only option and showed his contempt for the hundreds of thousands of Londoners whose lives are already blighted by noise and pollution: "I understand all about the local pressures but you have got, as a nation, to be able to overcome those and make a sensible decision about where that extra runway capacity in the south-east should be."

A “sensible decision”  is, in Toryspeak, one that favours business.

The argument that there is an urgent need for new airport capacity simply does not hold water when the figures are examined.

The total number of commercial flights (cargo and passenger combined) in the UK in the first quarter of this year was down 1.8% compared to the same quarter in 2011. London airports saw a smaller decrease (1.4%) than regional airports (2.2%). This is a steady trend, though there will of course be a blip in passenger numbers for the Olympic quarter.

In the first quarter of this year there was a small increase in the number of passengers handled at all UK airports and a small decline in all commercial flights and cargo tonnage. Cargo tonnage on international flights to and from the UK has remained broadly the same since 2000, in contrast with the 1990s when it was rising at 7% per annum.

A smaller number of cargo flights from Europe is being offset by a larger number from the so-called BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia India and, in particular, China.

The truth is that the system is desperately trying to generate growth by increasing airport capacity, rather than meeting an existing need.

The main result of airport expansion would be to facilitate imports of goods from China whilst sending a few British suits to sell financial services on the return flight. Trying to slow China’s slide into slump is crucial for profits everywhere.

Over half of China's exports are a result of foreign (including British) business locating part of their global manufacturing chain in China. This rises to 90% in high-tech sectors. So when Osborne talks about the economy he doesn’t mean the British economy, he means the world capitalist economy.

To try and get the system back on track they will go for growth – any kind of growth, at any price and anywhere in the world. The environmental impact of new airport capacity, and whether the mass of the people agree to it or not, simply does not feature in their thinking.

So will Ed Miliband and Labour refuse to take part in this fraudulent commission? Not likely! New Labour supported Heathrow expansion when in government for the same business reasons as Osborne and Cameron support it now. As on all major issues, there is a cigarette paper between the major parties.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
6 September 2012

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