The news the third runway at Heathrow Airport has been given the go-ahead by the Government, despite the Prime Minister’s continued calls for a green revolution, has been met with widespread anger. Highly regarded columnists from across the spectrum of the national press have joined together to condemn it, opposition politicians have had a field day and the No Third Runway Campaign Group seem to have merely redoubled their efforts.
This is an issue people will talk about in the queue for the ballot box, and Mr Brown understands that. He has presented himself to the British public as a serious man for serious times and it is unlikely he will have taken this decision lightly.
This is a good message. For all his short-comings, and he is undoubtedly a very serious man, we are equally living through very serious times. As he has rightly said recently, when the actions of one banking system can impact so enormously on the banks of another nation half way across the world, then the only way to approach the global financial crisis is with a global financial response.
As Colin Matthews, the CEO of the British Airports Authority has repeatedly said, Britain cannot afford to compromise its position as a global
financial hub and, as another bail-out comes into view, this is as true today as it has ever been.
The hard truth is we do not know how much impact the third runway will have on the environment. It could very well be negligible. What we do know is that it will provide us with 72,000 new jobs and, in the current state of play, Heathrow will not be able to hold on to the airline business that has already started to migrate to airports with more runways, such as Schiphol, Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle.
Airplanes are often seen as the arch-villain in global warming, but they only contribute about 1.6 per cent of all carbon emissions. In the current climate, they are given tax exceptions that allow them to dominate trans-national travel. By combining the speed of an airplane with a comparable lack of price, many consumers think there is no other option.
With the promise of a new runway, Mr Brown has bargained for a strict set of fiscal policies. If he is able to impose these taxes, he will encourage the aviation industry to pursue a greener future whilst evening out the playing field with other forms of transportation. This is where the pressure should be placed.
It is easy for us to sit here and criticize without fully understanding the complexities of the situation. Barack Obama has already made it blindingly clear he will be unable to see through all of his campaign promises in the current economic climate. Gordon Brown will privately be as frustrated as anyone that he has not been able to see his vision materialize, but right now we need practical leaders. If not anything else, he is certainly that.