John Gummer should have been pensioned off years ago. Indeed, I thought he had been. Remember the picture of feeding his daughter Cordelia a burger to prove that they were safe from Mad Cow Disease? Hers may have been CJD free, but if press reports are correct, his policy proposals on taxing airlines out of the country make me wonder if the burger he was eating wasn't somehow contaminated.
What sane politician would actually try to cap ALL airport expansion in the three main airports in the country? John Gummer was Environmeent Secretary in John Major's government, which did all it could to encourage such expansion. There's nothing like a sinner who repenteth, eh? If his madcap scheme was ever put into effect just watch as business drains away from this country to Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. They must think Britain is going soft in the head.
In addition to preventing these - and presumably other - airports from expanding, he wants to take the first step to abolishing all domestic flights by putting VAT on them. If I thought he wanted to stop there I wouldn't be so worried, but make no mistake, he agrees with Tim Yeo that domestic flights should be done away with completely (apart from the ones Yeo takes to play golf, of course). There is a slight problem, though, in that we don't have the rail (or indeed road) capacity to replace those flights.
And this is the most comical bit of all. The domestic flight slots which would be freed up would be handed to long haul airlines, thereby actually INCREASING air pollution and the airlines' carbon footprint. I realise that long haul flights are supposed to have a smaller average carbon footprint, but if there are more of them it would surely increase.
These proposals are gesture politics of the worst sort. They give the impression of being highly enviornmentally friendly in order to add weight to the VOTE BLUE GO GREEN image, but in reality they are right out of the Liberal Democrat manual of looney tune policies.
If you stop any development of the big three airports all that will happen is that trade will be transfered to overseas hubs like Schiphol. People will then take short haul flights back to London - or - and it's a big or - they may just not bother and transfer their business to a city with good transport links.
I'm tired of politicians of all parties thinking that taxes are the answer to everything. The Conservatives say that increases in green taxes will be offset by tax cuts elsewhere, but it's clear that this won't be the case for everyone. The answer to so many environmental questions is to provide incentives not punishments. Why is it that so few politicians 'get' this?
These proposals will damage the economy of London and the South East, reduce economic activity and lead to job losses. There's nothing Conservative about that. It's the economics of the puerile to suggest that airports who are taxced won't pass the cost onto the customer. So the dear old tax payer is hit with a good old double whammy.
As Iain Murray of the CEI has written: "Giving domestic flight slots to international flights will either cause passengers to take alternative trips (eg London to Schipol, Schipol to Newcastle rather than just London to Newcastle) or put yet more stress on an already straining rail infrastructure. In addition, reducing the attractiveness of short-haul flights will cause serious problems for regional airports. It is unlikely to increase the Conservative Party’s standing in the regions and may be regarded as yet another example of Londonocentric thinking by the Tories."
Also among Gummer's plans is a proposal to tax 4x4 vehicles off the road (pray tell us what Gummer and Zak Goldsmith drive please) even though their carbon emissions are often less than smaller cars.
There are (thankfully) two sensible proposals among those reported in the Evening Standard. One is the Single Flight Tax, which would replace Air Passenger Duty and charge airlines for the CO2 emissions used per flight. This would encourage airlines to fill their flights rather than fly with half empty planes. The second is to break up BAA's big three airports.
Let me make one thing very clear. If by some remote misfortune the Conservative leadership decides to adopt Gummer's mad proposals on airport expansion I will continue to argue until I am blue in the face that they are wrong, wrong wrong. And if by some remote chance I happen to be a Conservative candidate at the next election, you won't find me changing my mind. Airports are vital to our national economy and so is their managed expansion. And I cannot understand anyone who calls themselves a Conservative could believe otherwise.
Now, moving on, I swear to you, it's not April 1st but the LibDems have announced one of their loonier ideas today too. They want to abolish all petrol cars by... wait for it, 2050. They also want to hit business by imposing tolls on road freight. And they're trumping the Tories by wanting to impose VAT on ALL flights, not just domestic flights.
And to cap it all, it seems West Ham are about to sign Adriano from Inter Milan!
I need a lie down.