Turn up the spin: how politics works

Spin dial

Imagine you run BAA. You quite want a runway at your airport, but no one else does. Your runway will require a whole village to be flattened, including three schools, a graveyard and 750 houses. Building the runway will make it very difficult to meet our climate change targets. But you really, really want the runway, because then you'll make loads of cash. What do you do?

Simple - you hire lots of ex-Labour apparatchiks to work at your company, and use their contacts ruthlessly. Meanwhile your mates in government hire a whole bunch of your ex-employees, until you've created one big incestuous family and blurred the lines between your company and the people who run the country. Sorted!

DfT and BAA collude over consultation

Parliament 5

It was collusion on a massive scale; a stich-up so great that no one would believe it - until 5 of us took to the rooftops to shout about it. Documents obtained by Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act show beyond any doubt that BAA and the Department for Transport sat down to fiddle the figures and re-write the consultation on expanding Heathrow airport. But that was just the beginning...

After the rooftop action last week, someone slipped the Sunday Times even more documents (1 / 2 / 3 / 4), and their investigative reporters looked into it further. What they found showed that the collusion went further than even we'd imagined - that the government abandoned its own data on noise and pollution in favour of dodgy data collected by BAA. They set up 'Project Heathrow', headed up by senior civil servant David Gray, to fix the "strict local environmental limits" in favour of expansion. In the words of one official who worked on the project: "It’s a classic case of reverse engineering. They knew exactly what results they wanted and fixed the inputs to get there."

Does supporting expansion make you sick?

Mother Tabbinskins

Yesterday's papers carried the unsurprising news that living under a flight path can lead to increased stress and noise-related illness. But can supporting the third runway make you ill? We sent our roving reporter Dee Locke undercover at two governmental departments, to find out.

"I checked out the Department for Transport", says Dee, "and found that their staff were un-naturally ill. Staff at the DfT took an average of 12.4 sick days last year, compared to 9.1 for the Civil Service average. That's pretty high, leading us to suspect that the extra days could come from the stress of dealing with constant phone calls from angry residents and super-glue blockades of their offices."

Minister doesn't let the train take the strain


A Freedom of Information Act request from the Department for Transport reveals that six domestic flights were taken by DfT Ministers during the twelve months leading up to October 2007. Most of these flights leave from Glasgow International, an airport conveniently located in the constituency of one Tom Harris, Minister for Rail.

Now you or I might think that Mr. Harris would be better off by train, but who knows how a Minister's mind works? Perhaps he should spend less time jetting about on short-haul flights, and more time on the choo-choos he's meant to be in charge of...

On a lighter note, another FOI request shows that the least popular Minister at the DfT is Jim Fitzpatrick, Minister for the Environment and Aviation. He sent 150 Christmas cards this year, while his colleagues all sent 200 or more.

Do cars produce more CO2 than planes?


Planes and Cars

According to today's Times, the anti-aviation movement has "duped" the public into thinking that planes are more polluting than cars. The National Omnibus Survey shows that 40% of people think planes are the most environmentally damaging form of transport. But are they?

Survey results are like Shroedinger's cats: any statement about them can be simultaneously true and false. Aviation is the most polluting mode of transport for any given journey, but not in terms of total CO2 emissions. Cars produce 69.9 million tonnes of CO2 while domestic and international aviation emitted 37.5 million tonnes.

Does Defra even talk to the DfT?

No 2 Heathrow

Defra has relased a 'framework for pro-environmental behaviours', and rather surprisingly "avoid[ing] unnecessary short haul flights" is third on the list. Surprisingly only because their colleagues in the Department for Transport are busy making it easier for people to fly short-haul, by trying to build a new short-haul runway at Heathrow.

The DfT would do well to read the 'framework' - it says that "Government needs to lead by example, and to be more visible" on climate change, and "be more prepared to intervene up-stream and 'choice edit' in order to remove the most unsustainable products and services from the market place". For those who don't speak civil service, the report translates: "the Government’s support for targeted airport expansion has been perceived by some people to contradict with evidence on the climate change impacts of increased flying."

Now why on earth would anybody think that?

BMI vs the free market, round two

Plane Crazy

Radical anti-capitalists BMI are at it again - this time threatening to axe flights between Durham Tees Valley airport and Heathrow if BAA raises the price of landing slots at the London airport.

They've got MPs in such a tizz, that 14 have signed up to an Early Day Motion, asking the DfT to mark the flight as a 'public service', keeping landing costs lower than the market rate.

Is Defra trying to screw the DfT?

Defra Heathrow night

This morning Defra published a compilation of airport noise charts, showing the area around airports, and the various decibel bands.

Nothing odd about that, until you look closer. While the DfT tries to avoid showing an area greater than its preferred 57db limit (and rejected the recent ANASE report which found that people are disturbed at 50db), the Defra day chart goes down to 55db, and the night one to 50db.

Could those crafty civil servants at Defra be trying to undermine their transport colleagues determination to ignore the ANASE report's findings? Why else would they show a 50db limit if, as the DfT believes, people are only affected from 57db and above? Or is it just early and I'm being conspiracy minded? Answers on a postcard to: I don't like aircraft noise, c/o the DfT, 76 Great Marsham St, SW1P 4DR...

Women climate activists blockade the Department for Transport

Women's DfT blockade

A group of female climate activists have blockaded the Department for Transport in protest at the Government's transport policies, which are catapulting us towards climate change.

The action came in response to the Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly confirming the government's intentions to build a third runway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow and coincided with the opening of their first 'consultation' exhibition.

You say consultation. We say sham!

Tin of Sham

At a packed meeting yesterday afternoon the combined forces of the anti-Heathrow expansion movement heard something they'd always suspected. The consultation, due out today, will be a sham. The Government has made its mind up; like it or not, Heathow expansion is going ahead.

We had gathered to meet with Aviation Minister Jim Fitzpatrick, in a final face-to-face before the launch of the latest consultation on the third runway. Plane Stupid, of course, was not invited, but I snuck in to hear just what Fitzpatrick (coincidentally also Environment Minister for the Department for Transport) had to say.