I’ve just caught up with this morning’s Andrew Marr Show, whose eponymous host was elsewhere. In his absence, Fiona Bruce tackled our typically underbriefed Mayor on a range of issues, including the only significant article about him in today’s newspapers, which he said he hadn’t even seen.
First, they covered the issue of Heathrow expansion. I find it disturbing that, in the world of black-and-white binary realities that the media so enjoy and certain Boris-loving others are only too happy to jump on board with [can’t find the comment I’m thinking of here, but it was something to do with us not covering the good things Boris does, citing a lack of posts this week about his opposition to the third runway as proof], a general understanding seems to have developed that Boris is on the ‘right’ side in the Heathrow debate.
Of course, not wanting a third runway at Heathrow is certainly a key part of being on the ‘right’ side. But the qualification for being on the right side – by which, of course, is meant the side that doesn’t signify an infuriating inability to take proper decisions to address the ever-worsening threat of catastrophic climate change – is that you are opposed to all expansion of aviation, sending as it does a disastrous message about the lack of seriousness with which the government is treating the threat.
On this overarching measure, Boris scores very poorly indeed. In today’s interview he restated his commitment to look at expanding any (or perhaps all!) of Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and Manston airports, as well as considering his repeatedly discredited Thames Estuary airport.
This week we saw a plane grounded (rivered?) by bird strikes to the engines, but typically the media didn’t seize this opportunity to join the dots and point out that Boris’s runway(s), in the bird-rich estuary, would be especially prone to these.
So, when we fail to praise Boris for his stance on Heathrow, which like many of the things he says appears good for a few milliseconds, until you scratch off the veneer, it’s because his stance isn’t actually worthy of praise. In fact, like so many of his policies, it’s a typically Tory bit of nimbyism. Just like his shunting of affordable housing into boroughs where the paupers won’t spoil his wealthy voters’ views of their estates, Boris is happy with airport expansion anywhere he’s not relying on votes. Indeed he’s already approved expansion at London City Airport, which is surrounded by Labour voters.
Incidentally, Teresa Villiers, speaking on the Politics Show’s London section today, very noticeably refused to answer clear questions on whether the Conservatives were opposed to all airport expansion in the south-east or just Heathrow. Her refusal to be drawn on this before any general election lays bare the game that the Tories are playing: raking in the votes in the west London marginals while not wanting to affect their chances in Surrey, Essex, Bedfordshire and Kent.
Of course Boris’s position on Heathrow, in isolation, is welcomed by those of us desperate to see the third runway proposal killed off on environmental grounds, but that’s hardly a reason to start praising Boris when seen in the wider context.
Bruce also brought up the idea of Boris funding a legal challenge to the third runway out of taxpayers’ money. This is a plan he seems to have remarkably little problem with compared with his view on Ken Livingstone’s legal challenge to the Underground PPP, as expressed during the election campaign (summary: regardless of how right the challenge was, it was a waste of taxpayers’ money).
The airport topic was the meatiest tackled in the interview, but was followed by some others. First, today’s Independent On Sunday article, Boris used public funds for Tory conference hotel. This is the kind of story the KGBvening Standard would have plastered across its boards for days, and Gilligan would have lapped up, under the previous Mayor. More to the point, Boris himself would have been sure to bring it up at every opportunity during the election campaign, while promising to be whiter than white himself.
This morning he attempted to brush it off, essentially saying he doubted he’d done anything wrong but if he had he’d sort it out. Then he remembered that in his head the election still isn’t over, and quickly turned the subject to some larger amount of allegedly wasted money that Ken had apparently spent on a lunch with Hugo Chávez. (Whether spending money on a lunch to seal a deal worth £20m/year to London is necessarily an indisputable waste is another matter.)
With that, it was on to some other topics, mainly the Met Police chief, due to be announced soon. This was an unrevealing conversation, and along with the rest of the interview left me yearning for something more substantial. Will we ever see some of the issues tackled elsewhere on this blog brought to wider public attention?
Perhaps the BBC felt details about wasteful buses, hierarchy-free transport systems and crime stats were too parochial for its national political flagship, but it’s these issues which characterise the Mayoralty and it’s these where there are clear internal contradictions and problems to be probed, not to mention parallels to be explored with the aspirant government on the national Opposition benches. (Did we mention that Cameron has pledged to build a certain number of extra rape crisis centres if elected? Where did we hear that promise before?)
At least we can be grateful we have the internet to plug the gap, for those who know where to look. Aside from the usual suspects, in the run-up to next weekend’s Progressive London conference, at which fellow Boris-watching bloggers will be among the speakers, the Guardian’s Comment is free will be running a series looking forward to the event. It started today with a good summary of the problems with Boris’s transport policy from Christian Wolmar. Enjoy.
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