Tuesday 23 December 2008

Brown Commits Government to Heathrow Expansion Environmental Madness.

At the weekend many will have missed the statement Gordon Brown made virtually committing the Government to a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow airport. This is not just environmental lunacy, it is also an assault on the human rights of tens of thousands who will lose their homes or have their local environment poisoned by air pollution and destroyed by noise pollution.

Brown's position on Heathrow expansion exposes the existence in Britain of a corporate political complex where the interests of big corporations have so permeated government that the major decisions of this Government are indistinguishable from the Boardroom demands of the leading companies in each commercial sector.

There’s a brutal arrogance about the corporate political complex that we know as New Labour. This has been no better demonstrated than in the Government’s behaviour on Heathrow expansion.

It isn’t just that this Government like every past government has acceded to every demand ever made of them by the aviation industry ranging from tax exemptions on fuel to turning a blind eye to the environmental impacts of uncontrolled expansion.

It is more the way that this time government under New Labour has actively colluded and connived with BAA so blatantly to fit up and fix the decision making process.

Spurious consultations and ludicrously doctored scientific assessments; government departments and even Number 10 populated by staff either coming from or going to lucrative posts in the aviation industry and funds poured into political parties or pet government projects to smooth the path of decision making.

A scale of contamination of the policy process we have never witnessed so starkly in this country.

In the face of an immense and unprecedented broad ranging coalition of opposition to Heathrow expansion, the Government has legislated to fix the planning process so that opposition voices are stifled. Even Parliament is to be denied a vote on the issue.

But the world has changed since Government ministers and members of BAA’s board first colluded on how to fix this decision.

The arduous but extremely effective opposition campaign, particularly over the last 5years, has exposed the Government’s role and its arguments for expansion. The result is that deep in Government doubts are now growing about the value of being virtually isolated on this issue.

There is also a growing consciousness that many people will not now simply accept a decision that so blatantly ignores the concerns of a vast section of our population and that rides roughshod over our democratic principles and practices.

Democratic government requires the consent of the governed. The savage impact of Heathrow expansion not just in devastating local communities but also in increasing the risks of climate change is mobilising a campaigning zeal to deny that consent to be passively governed. Vehement opposition has not been seen like this since the suffragettes and the early trade union movement.

Inevitably in this period of recession arguments for Heathrow expansion will be dressed up as vital to saving jobs and the national economy. The hope of the Government and BAA is that short term economic uncertainties will override environmental concerns.

This argument may have some limited impact but with high speed rail alternatives being promoted offering the same employment and economic advantages whilst overcoming many of the environmental concerns, people are not so gullible this time round.

A wise Government would recognise that the game is up on aviation expansion at any cost and make a fresh start on determining a rational policy for aviation’s role in an integrated and sustainable transport strategy.

The alternative is a vista of a decade ahead of a sustained campaign of protest and direct action as Heathrow becomes the internationally recognised iconic battleground for protest against climate change.

I have attached the video of my speech at the recent Climate Change demonstration.