Justine Greening goes

The Head of Justine Greening on a Platter

The aviation industry got what it wanted: the head of Justine Greening on a platter.  Immediate policy on Heathrow is unlikely to change – the new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has a record of opposing a third runway (http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2009-01 28&number=26&mpn=Patrick_McLoughlin&mpc=West_Derbyshire&house=commons) and the Liberal Democrats remain firmly opposed – but the industry’s marketing onslaught has paid off.

That onslaught started the day Justine Greening was appointed.  On the day she was appointed in October 2011 BA chief Willie Walsh called her “compromised” because of her opposition to a 3rd runway and because she had a constituency under the Heathrow flight path (As had her predecessor Philip Hammond, but that was never mentioned by the industry) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/8829387/New-minister-compromised-over-Heathrow-expansion-says-Willie-Walsh.html.

From day one the criticism by the industry and its allies was relentless.  Last month (23/8/12) Richard Wellings, head of transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank told The Financial Times Justine Greening’s position was “untenable”: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c881f3a0-ed00-11e1-9980-00144feab49a.html#axzz25ZihFSMr.

But the industry’s campaign was more subtle than simply personal attacks on Greening.  They put it in the context that she was standing in the way of urgent decisions being required to expand our airport capacity or UK plc will lose out.  They know that is nonsense.  They know Department for Transport figures show that that Britain has enough airport capacity until almost 2030.  They know that London is voted the top city in Europe for business in survey after survey.  The influential Cushman & Wakefield found: “London is still ranked – by some distance from its closest competitors – as the leading city in which to do business.” (Cushman & Wakefield, The European Cities Monitor (2011)

https://www.cushwake.com/cwglobal/docviewer/2120_ECM_2011__FINAL_10Oct.pdf?id=c50500003p&repositoryKey=CoreRe).  And just this month a Bircham Bell Dyson came to the same conclusion, even putting a plane on the cover of their report to illustrate it! (http://www.bdb-law.co.uk/media/440379/settingupbusinessintheuk.pdf).

The industry know all this.  They also know that their oft-repeated assertion that Chinese firms are locating to other European cities because of an alleged lack of airport capacity in the UK is playing hard and fast with the facts.  They know that the number of flights between China and the UK is limited to 62 a week by bilateral treaty.  They know that the difficulty and cost of Chinese people getting visas to come to Britain is a major disincentive.  Ian Birrell wrote in the Guardian (14/5/12)>: Getting a visa for the UK is “torture with a system judged the worst in Europe. Perhaps stupidest of all is how we treat the Chinese.”

The industry know all this as well.  But facts have not been their main concern.  Nor lofty thoughts about what is best for the UK economy.  Their aim has simply been to generate headlines to make the position of Justine Greening – and, ideally, also the aviation minister Theresa Villiers who was also firmly opposed to a third runway – untenable.  The industry has produced no hard economic evidence.  That was never their intention.  It was simply, as Greening put it in an interview with the Evening Standard ‘a pub-style’ debate. 

And it worked.  Greening was moved not because she was a poor Transport Secretary.  She had won plaudits across the board for her policy of developing a long-tern strategy.  She went in order to get aviation out of the headlines.

My guess is the frenetic campaign by the aviation industry and its allies will now cease.  They’ve got their prey.  They’ve always known no big decisions will be taken until after the next Election.  But they could not live with independent-minded ministers at the Department for Transport.  It was all very predicable.  As Chris Mullin, a former aviation minister who tried to stand up to the industry, said. “During my 18 months as a junior minister responsible for aviation policy, I learnt two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, that successive governments usually give way to them”. 

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