The government’s go-ahead for a third runway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow will destroy 700 homes, liquidate the village of Sipson, make life unbearable for thousands living under new flight paths, and dramatically increase emissions of greenhouse gases. Is New Labour bothered? You must be joking!
Transport secretary Geoff Hoon will claim that by telling airlines they must use new less-polluting planes and by building a high-speed rail link into London from Heathrow, legally-binding emissions reduction targets can still be met. The truth is that if they are met it will be because from 2015, aviation is brought into the European emissions trading scheme. So the airlines will use phoney off-setting and carbon trading which does not reduce emissions globally at all.
There will be an additional 200,000 flights a year, and the expansion starts now. Because at the same time as giving the go-ahead for the runway, the government will agree that 60,000 more flights per year can use the existing runways. Hundreds of thousands more homes, schools and businesses will be affected by noise and low flying.
Support for anti-social expansion of the airport comes from those who will directly profit from it – the airport operators and the airlines. And there is opportunist backing from the Unite trade union, which hopes jobs will be created. It would be better if the union actually lifted even a tiny finger to fight just one of the thousands of redundancies now sweeping through the economy on a daily basis. Don’t hold your breath on that one, however.
Unite wrote to Labour MPs urging them to support the Heathrow expansion plans. But Unite does not need to worry, because Labour MPs are not going to be allowed a vote. The prime minister made clear yesterday he will rely on a 2006 vote approving aviation policy as his authority to proceed. And new laws forced through last year are specifically designed to stop the public using planning law to challenge the decision. Detailed plans will be railroaded through.
The Conservatives will use one of their debates to try to humiliate the government with a defeat on the question, but that too would have no legal force. All of which makes clear that we live in a non-functioning “democracy”, where the views of the people are entirely ignored and decisions railroaded through.
HACAN Clear Skies, the campaign against expansion, promised that the fight would go on, with a campaign of legal and direct action. John Stewart, of HACAN , made clear that campaigners are looking to Labour losing the next election to prevent the new runway being built. “The decision has been taken by two dinosaurs, Gordon Brown and Geoff Hoon, in collusion with the aviation industry. We are planning for life beyond the dinosaurs.”
But campaigners should not get too excited about a Tory win at the General Election. Remember how the Tories denounced the Maastricht Treaty for populist reasons and then went on to sign it? Once in office it is impossible to imagine a Conservative government going against the interests of big business.
It is not just New Labour but the whole parliamentary political system that is tied to corporate interests. This increasingly authoritarian system is immune to protest and pressure and will use the forces of the state to get what capitalism wants. Fighting Heathrow expansion – for the rights of communities and against corporate power – means seriously considering and then adopting sustainable economic and democratic political alternatives as outlined in our new book, Unmasking the State – a rough guide to real democracy.