John Biggs, deputy leader of the London Assembly’s Labour group, has alleged that last week’s single-issue People’s Question Time on Heathrow expansion was nothing more than “a Tory party propaganda event“.  The Lib Dem’s transport spokesperson, Caroline Pidgeon, also supports these allegations and has written an as-yet unpublished letter to the Evening Standard.

Unusually for a People’s Question Time, there was no panel of London Assembly members to answer questions from the audience, merely a carefully stage-managed arrangement of pointedly anti-expansion Tories (Boris, Richmond’s Zac Goldsmith and Hillingdon’s Ray Puddifoot) on one side of the platform, Tory Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes as Chair and on the opposing side BAA stooge Lord Soley and West London Business CE Frank Wingate, with an empty space for Gordon Brown.

Despite knowing full well that Gordon Brown would be a no-show, no expense was spared on security and policing. The vast majority of the capacity audience were from Sipson (the village which would be razed for the new runway) and Hayes, both in the borough of Hillingdon. An element of the audience reminded me of the anti-paedophile lynch mobs which periodically emerge in the UK. There was nobody from the village of Cranford in the neighbouring borough of Hounslow, despite the fact that BAA propose to drop the so-called Cranford Agreement which prevents aircraft taking off directly over the village. In fact, I believe there was only myself and one other audience member from Hounslow, which is most affected by noise and pollution from aircraft landing on the existing two runways.

There was no publicity for the event in Hounslow, despite the fact that its residents are directly affected by the airport. An employee from Hillingdon Council told me that he’d heard about the event at work and when he phoned the theatre for a ticket, some time after booking opened, he was asked whether he was pro or anti-expansion. The audience certainly didn’t reflect the ethnic mix of residents in areas adjacent to the airport and there was nobody representing the many local residents who work at the airport, reportedly the largest single-site employer in the UK.

Two people out of an audience of 600 identified themselves as supporting airport expansion. Mace-wielding local Labour MP John McDonnell was relegated to near the back of the theatre, unlike non-participating Tory AM Kit Malthouse who had a front row seat.

On election, Boris pledged to expand People’s Question Time from the existing two statutory meetings per year to six per year. However, he intends that these extra meetings are to be what he calls “ad hoc issue based” [PDF].  It remains to be seen whether the forthcoming extra meetings also turn out to be nothing more than rabble rousing, Tory-skewed propaganda fests.

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