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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5 Responses to Boris on the (non-) Andrew Marr Show

  1. I’m still not sure I understand your position on Heathrow expansion any better than I comprehend Blasted Boris’s, or that of la Villiers.

    If there is an argument against the third runway, it is either environmental, amenity or inconvenience. I get the last two of those: airports are noisy and smelly (but that’s the bus-stop argument — we want one nearby, but not right outside our front door); residents of Sipson have reasons to be aggrieved (as do all on the receiving end of a CPO).

    Where I miss out is the environmental argument. Under carbon trading (as Geoff Hoon’s piece in Saturday’s Guardian explained) any surplus gained by not building the third runway would be exported to Schiphol and CDG (with cash gain to the private-sector operators at LHR?). So no overall carbon gain; but a significant export of jobs (and a nice subsidy to Ferrovial?).

    Blasted Boris wriggles on this issue. His TV interview last week clearly indicated that the Thames Estuary thing is now no more than a face-saving exercise. The new hope is Manston (hailed as “the longest runway in the country”, as I recall). I hope I remember that incorrectly: Campbeltown is longer and Fairford must be pretty close. The joy of Manston is that it allows BB to restore diplomatic relations with the Tories of Kent CC.

  2. Perhaps I’m guilty of idealism, but I don’t think we should be expanding aviation at all. I think that applies to all countries, but Boris’s sphere of influence extends only as far as the south east, while the government’s and opposition’s is primarily this country.

    That said, in terms of influence I think this decision sends a clear message to other countries that even the one with the Climate Change Bill thinks it’s OK to carry on expanding aviation, so they might as well continue to do so too.

    I don’t think there should be any expansion at CDG or Schipol either, and while I acknowledge Britain doesn’t have the ability to force this to be the case, it’s hardly in a position to lobby other countries if it’s busy expanding its own airports.

    So I think that while this is certainly partly about the exact measurable carbon emission levels resulting from the decision, I think it’s also about the wider general message sent by the decision. It’s somewhat idealistic, perhaps, but I hope you can better understand my position now. God forbid I should be as incomprehensible as Boris ;-)

  3. BG says:

    We have being going on about Boris being a hypocrite for a while. He wants to make sure West London is covered and forget about East and South East London.
    See the below link to find out how people in and around London City Airport really feel.


  4. Alex says:

    The problem with scattering flights all over the South East is air traffic control.

    Nobody ever mentions this for some reason, but the problem of deconflicting traffic scales both with the number of flights (increased aluminium/oxygen ratio) and also with the number of nodes involved (increased complexity); can you imagine the sky over the Thames Estuary with the Heathrow arrivals, Gatwick arrivals, LCY arrivals, AND Manston departures? (And Southend, just for giggles.) Probably best to completely recast the system.

    We haven’t had a major aircraft accident in the SE since the Staines Trident crash in 1972, which wasn’t an ATC problem, but it’s not cool to assume that the good people at NATS can stretch without limit.

  5. Tom says:

    Very true, although these things change over time. Stansted, for instance, has far fewer restrictions north of the field due to the massive reduction of movements in the ‘USS East Anglia’ military area. When I was a lad, the only civil aircraft we saw where charters into Mildenhall – the rest was a range of military types from Jet Provosts to SR-71s…

    ATC conflicts were one of the key areas of analysis of the Roskill Commission. I’ll dig out which of their four sites was best for it. One of the keys to unlocking ATC conflicts was closing Luton, IIRC.

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