A Third Runway At Heathrow Or Fixing Potholes In Roads? We Need To Be Bigger Than This In The Age Of Brexit

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It is Westminster politicians and journalists, not Brexiteers, who have been short sighted and parochial

The Telegraph’s James Kirkup poses an interesting question about the expansion of Heathrow Airport and other national political priorities in the post-Brexit world:

Almost 70 per cent of commuting is done by car so roads are clearly of interest to voters, never mind the wider economics.   But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that big shiny infrastructure projects like runways and high-speed railways are simply more glamorous and interesting to politicians and, yes journalists, who spend more time in London (where most people commute using public transport) than stuck at a roundabout trying to get onto a bypass.

Airport expansion is about international trade and competitiveness, our national self-image and our global role. All the important things that important people in London spend so much time talking about, in other words.  And rightly so. We should have another runway at Heathrow, and one at Gatwick, come to that: the more competition the better

But then our leaders really should start talking about things that are actually important to the people they work for: clogged roundabouts, congested junctions and potholes.

Earlier this year, the Treasury gave councils £50 million extra to fill holes in roads. Councils reckon they need £12 billion more to fill them all. That’s close to the £16 billion that might need to be spent on new roads around an expanded Heathrow. Which would voters choose in a referendum?

Read the whole thing – it is a thoughtful piece. And of course James Kirkup is right to point out that key national infrastructure projects and local community investment need not be mutually exclusive.

Personally, I make no apologies for firmly supporting the expansion of Heathrow Airport, as well as new runways for Gatwick Airport any any other airport which wants to expand to the benefit of our aviation sector.

As this blog previously ranted:

Air travel is great. It takes rich tourists from wealthy countries and brings them to poorer countries where they boost the local economy with their money. It keeps the wheels of business turning, from the CEO flying from New York to London for a meeting, the office worker commuting to Berlin every week for a project, to doctors and scientists gathering for international conferences.

Air travel bridges the distance between our towns and cities and helps knit the planet together through a web of far-flung family members, friendships and business relationships. And in doing so, the aviation industry helps to foster trust and understanding, bridging cultural divides and doing more to affirm our common humanity than any third-sector institution or political movement.

And yet we seem intent on attacking aviation, thwarting its growth and choking the life out of the industry with punishing airport taxes and insurmountable barriers to expansion. And for what? So that human beings can creep meekly across the surface of the planet, apologising for our very existence and ostentatiously offsetting the carbon dioxide we emit whenever we open our mouths?

But I must admit to bristling a bit at Kirkup’s analogy comparing Brexiteers to downtrodden locals worried only about potholes in their roads, while the Remain-supporting establishment are cast in the role of far-sighted metropolitan elites who alone acknowledge and face up to the long term problems facing our country.

If anything, it is actually the other way around. By continually divesting Westminster of more and more decision-making authority through successive EU treaties and agreements, it is the British political class who effectively dragged the level of our political discourse down to the level of squabbling about NHS waiting times, train delays and potholes in the roads. When all of the consequential decisions – like trade, and increasingly foreign relations – are taken at the European level, all that’s left for British politicians is to squabble about whether the BBC should be forced to up its bid for The Great British Bake-Off.

That’s why we now have a wishy-washy parliament and civil service which is having to rebuild atrophied trade negotiation competencies almost from scratch, while we look to our prime minister less as a world leader or person of real consequence, and more as a glorified Comptroller of Public Services, someone to moan about on social media when the local library closes or the street lights don’t get repaired quickly enough.

The British people instinctively realised this, too, when they voted in the EU referendum. They realised that they only way to even begin to regain control over the full range of domestic and foreign affairs which trickle down to impact their lives was by leaving the failing supranational, federalist experiment known as the European Union.

Kirkup suggests that our leaders “our leaders really should start talking about things that are actually important to the people they work for: clogged roundabouts, congested junctions and potholes”. Well excuse me, but I specifically do not want the prime minister of my country to be wasting her time fussing over potholes and traffic jams. I want the political leadership of this country to set its sights on higher matters for once. In fact, the rule of thumb should be that Westminster only takes an interest if a decision cannot be fairly and responsibly made at a lower level.

And as for Kirkup’s fact that £50 million was given by the Treasury to local authorities to fill in potholes, this is simply more evidence that all government in Britain is vastly overcentralised – that the work of constitutional and governance reform must continue well beyond Brexit. Why not vastly reduce the amount of personal income tax or VAT claimed by central government, and devolve increased tax-levying powers to the counties instead? That way, the people of Liverpool and Bristol can pursue policies which work for them, while the people of rural Essex or Cambridgeshire can do likewise – whether they choose to prioritise filling in more potholes or attracting new investment by slashing taxes or offering incentives to business.

The real danger of Brexit is that nothing much changes and we fail to rock the boat; that we fail to properly grab this once-in-a-lifetime chance to critically re-examine the way in which we govern ourselves and make important decisions at a personal, community and national level. Securing an economically stable secession from the European Union should be the minimum requirement, not the grand prize. Why go to the effort of leaving the EU simply to return to being governed by the same set of domestic institutions which orchestrated our national decline prior to joining the European Economic Community, and then gave away more and more power to EU institutions once we were inside?

Ultimately, the media does us a disservice by framing idiotic questions and false choices like whether we would prefer a new runway at Heathrow Airport or for the potholes on our road to be fixed:

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Ask your average group of people whether they want to see enacted a policy which benefits them personally or one which has larger but more disparate benefits spread among a much larger population, and a majority will vote with their own immediate self interest – 67% to 33% as it currently stands on the Telegraph’s online poll.

Does that mean that this is the better policy? Absolutely not. There are times when we are one nation and must subordinate the narrow interests of certain interest groups in order to further the national interest, and there are many other times when we should be able to organise ourselves as communities and regions without the heavy-handed interference of Westminster. And while central government should absolutely be rolled back in many areas, subjecting new airport runway capacity decisions to a citizen’s pothole veto is precisely the wrong way to run a country or frame important strategic decisions.

We need to up our game. Politicians, journalists, ordinary citizens alike, all of us need to try harder to live up to the momentous times in which we find ourselves.

If we stop shooting for the middle and actually try to make the most of the historic opportunity afforded by Brexit then in a decade’s time we might witness a rebirth of local democracy and improve citizen participation in the democratic process at all levels. Better still, we might stop behaving like such dependent children, looking petulantly to Westminster for solutions to every issue we face. And if we stopped demanding that the same people who deal with matters of war and peace and the economic stewardship of the country also ensure that the Number 12 bus runs on time then maybe, just maybe we might improve both the quality and speed of critical decision making in this country.

And yes, maybe then there will finally be a gleaming new runway at Heathrow Airport, and at Gatwick too. Because voting for Brexit was the far-sighted, responsible act of enlightened citizens, not grumbling, parochial NIMBYs. And it should be the first of many such acts, not the last.

 

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Top Image: Michael Gaida, Pixabay

Bottom Image: LadyDisdain, Pixabay

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Justin Trudeau And Elbowgate: Safe Space Hysteria In Canadian Politics

It’s not just the students. Now fully grown adults – even elected MPs – are using the victimhood-soaked language of social justice and identity politics to score political points

As legislative brawls go, it hardly ranked with the fine example set by the likes of Turkey and Ukraine. But this most Canadian of restrained altercations is noteworthy for another reason – the fact that those parliamentarians on the side of the “victim” almost immediately resorted to the language of social justice and victimhood when establishing their narrative to the press.

The Guardian gives the background:

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, apologised in parliament on Wednesday after he was accused of “manhandling” one member of parliament and elbowing another, in conduct that sparked an uproar in Canada’s normally staid parliament.

Footage from inside the House of Commons showed Trudeau striding purposefully across the floor of the chamber and into a group of MPs, pulling Conservative Gord Brown by the arm to lead him to his seat so that parliament could begin a procedural vote.

Trudeau swore as he made his way to Brown, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, reportedly telling MPs to “get the fuck out of the way”.

As Trudeau led Brown from the group, he elbowed New Democrat MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. Parliament descended into mayhem as MPs heckled and pounded their desks while New Democratic party leader Tom Mulcair shouted at Trudeau. “What kind of man elbows a woman? It’s pathetic! You’re pathetic!” Mulcair can be heard shouting.

A close watching of the video shows that Trudeau is clearly impatient and exasperated, and quite possibly very rude in the way that he tried to grab opposition whip Gord Brown. But the elbowing of Ruth Ellen Brosseau was clearly unintentional, if still a likely consequence of the way that Trudeau went charging in to the tightly packed group of MPs.

So was an apology from Trudeau for an accidental physical contact enough to satisfy his critics? Of course not. CBC reports:

An emotional Brosseau said later in the House that she had been “elbowed in the chest by the prime minister,” bringing Trudeau to his feet once again to “apologize unreservedly.”

Brosseau said she was so upset from the incident that she had to leave the chamber, subsequently missing the vote.

Her NDP MP colleague Niki Ashton said she was deeply troubled by Trudeau’s actions.

“I am ashamed to be a witness to the person who holds the highest position in our country do such an act. I want to say that for all of us who witnessed this, this was deeply traumatic. What I will say, if we apply a gendered lens, it is very important that young women in this space feel safe to come here and work here,” she said.

“He made us feel unsafe and we’re deeply troubled by the conduct of the prime minister of this country.”

Far more disturbing than the incident itself is the fact that Brosseau, who clearly was not seriously hurt in the incident, nonetheless felt so emotionally overwhelmed by an accidental physical contact that she was unable to perform her duties in the House and had to leave the chamber. More depressing still is the way in which her colleague, Niki Ashton, whines about the incident using the same fragile, aggrieved tones that we have come to expect from student activists fully inducted into Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics.

Ashton claims that the event was “deeply traumatic”, not just for Brosseau who was hit, but for every single other person who witnessed the event. It is worth replaying the video at this point, to marvel at the notion that “trauma” could be inflicted on anybody from so minor an incident. And then comes the inevitable cry that the Canadian House of Commons is no longer a “safe space” for women MPs – all because of an unintentional physical contact between a man and a woman.

Seriously. The Canadian House of Commons, an unsafe space. Aside from the terrorist shooting in 2014, there are probably few spaces in the world as safe as the Canadian parliament. To claim that a highly secure building protected by armed guards and filled with generally mild-mannered politicians is “unsafe” is not only incredibly self-obsessed, it also does a disservice to people who may work dangerous jobs, live in rough neighbourhoods or grow up in broken families, all of whom have legitimate cause to fear for their safety. But no, let’s all worry that the Canadian parliament is somehow a seething hotbed of misogyny, just because the prime minister lost his temper and brushed past somebody a bit roughly.

Even the safest of spaces – like the Canadian parliament – cannot prevent unfortunate accidents, or occasional random acts of stupidity. Trudeau’s was just such an act, for which he apologised fulsomely. But we should all be concerned by the reaction to the incident, for it reveals something festering and growing in our culture.

So far, this blog has covered 37 distinct “Tales from the Safe Space“, covering incidents of student authoritarianism, attacks on free speech and excessive mental fragility from young adults who appear unable to function in the real world. A frequent response to the concerns raised by this blog and others is that we are exaggerating the problem – that it only affects universities, and that only a small subset of students at those universities subscribe to the brittle, authoritarian mindset which demands trigger warnings, safe spaces, no-platforming and campus speech codes. Well, now we see that there is no exaggeration.

The idea of grown adults as chronically weak victims or soon-to-be-victims has leaked out from the university campus like a toxic oil spill, and now infects even the parliament of a major western country. Now, Canadian MPs, elected to represent their constituents, speak of being traumatised and made to feel unsafe by witnessing a minor moment of awkward physical contact between two other people.

So can we please start taking this seriously now? At long last, can we stop deluding ourselves that this is a silly non-issue only affecting a small number of hardcore student activists, and that those involved will soon grow out of their authoritarian, victimhood-soaked ways? Because we now have definitive proof that they do not grow out of these habits. They grow into (physically) mature adults who then get themselves elected as MPs. And when their numbers reach critical mass, they will begin to enact exactly the same draconian laws and regulations for the whole country as they were accustomed to seeing on their own college campuses. All of Canada will effectively become a “safe space”, with all the attendant consequences for freedom of thought, behaviour and speech.

And that prospect is far more terrifying and traumatic than watching slow-motion footage of one person brushing past another in the Canadian parliament.

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

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