The first test of Johnson’s government’s environmental credentials didn’t take long to materialise. The prospect of bailing out airline Flybe with a relaxation of Air Passenger Duty (APD) demonstrates the power of the short term over the long term. Twas ever thus. It won’t be long before the fracking moratorium is ended, as the government’s ‘review’ discovers that all is well. Other big decisions, on Heathrow 3 and HS2 will no doubt proceed along similar lines.
But perhaps we have in all this found a new friend who rails against the billionaires’ club. Step forward Michael O’Leary CEO of Ryanair, who said ‘This government bail-out of the billionaire-owned Flybe is in breach of both competition and state aid laws. The Flybe model is not viable, which is why its billionaire owners are looking for a state subsidy for their failed investment.’ (Guardian, 17th January) Ouch! Shouldn’t this kind of critique be coming from Labour’s transport team? It seems not. Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald told the House of Commons: ‘There is clearly a case for government intervention and I trust the government will learn the lessons from their inept response to the Thomas Cook collapse, which saw other nation states being prepared to step in while this government sat on their hands and contacted the company only after it was too late.’ Mr McDonald noted how ‘important’ the airline was for regional connectivity but then went on to say ‘Slashing air passenger duty across the board would make a mockery of the Government’s supposed commitment to climate emissions. It would also benefit a wealthy minority. Some 70% of UK flights are made by a wealthy 15% of the population, with the great majority of people not flying at all. Aviation is set to be the biggest source of emissions by 2050, with Ministers planning for demand to double.’ (Hansard, 14th January) So, it looks like regional connectivity is important—but mainly for the top 15% of the population. And what is this regional connectivity all about? It seems the ‘billionaires’ only want this hallowed concept in order feed the hubs for their international routes, thus compounding the environmental problem. This is all just business as usual, and in the absence of Labour saying what exactly ‘government intervention’ means, it’s hard to see much of a distinction between HM Opposition and HM Government.