No, Jesus Would Not Demand Open Borders

Immigrants are all Gods children - Christian immigration protest

Those who make a Christian case for open borders and uncontrolled mass immigration do not apply the same altruism they demand of society to their own personal lives, and neither would tearing down national borders improve the common good. Those who use their faith (or even more cynically, the faith of others) as a bludgeon to agitate for open borders do so based on a deliberately superficial reading of Christianity, in which Jesus is little more than an easy-going aging hippie, or a benevolent Santa Claus figure

The Windrush scandal – in which British permanent residents and citizens, either naturalised immigrants or descendants of immigrants, were wrongly targeted for deportation because of bureaucratic incompetence and the eagerness of a fawning, rootless government to appear tough on immigration – has pushed the issue of immigration back up the list of top voter priorities in the United Kingdom.

At times like this, it is customary for cynical and opportunistic voices on the Left to exploit developments in order to agitate for their broader goal of open borders (or at least something perilously close to open borders – few left wing politicians are now willing to publicly articulate any restriction on immigration or sanction for immigration law violations which they actually support). And so it was this time, with a parade of Labour and other left-wing politicians effectively making the preposterous case that bureaucratic callousness with regard to the affected Windrush immigrants means that the government has now morally forfeited the right to control the borders at all.

Unfortunately, these voices are often also joined by left-wing Christians who waste no time extrapolating from one appalling example of Big Government callousness to press entirely tangential arguments about a more permissive immigration system. The Church of England’s own Migration policy subsite rather deceptively makes mention only of asylum and refugee issues, utterly ignoring the dominant economic migrant subgroup. One can only assume that this is because the CofE knows as well as the rest of us that pretending that the great migration wave consists entirely of the former type and not the latter is more likely to generate sympathy and lead to pressure for looser immigration policy.

As the depth of the government’s failure and mismanagement with regard to Windrush immigrants became evident, social media was swiftly flooded with tweets and sentiments suggesting that any attempt by politicians or civic leaders to dissuade or expel illegal immigrants – people entirely unconnected with the Windrush scandal – from maintaining unlawful residence in the United Kingdom is prima facie evidence of a missing or defective conscience:

 

Even Martyn Eden, political editor of Premier Christianity magazine, equivocates:

Some will see this affair as reflecting an underlying racism in British culture. Given that the density of population in the UK is 268 people per square kilometre, second only to Holland in the EU, a case can be made for limiting immigration, but the Brexit campaign certainly showed evidence of a xenophobic hostility to foreigners.

Our duty to love our neighbours regardless of their racial and family backgrounds, following Jesus’ teaching and example, will shape how Christians understand and respond to this distressing and shameful episode in our national life.

This mirrors the vague, evasive wooliness and anti Brexit bigotry which swathes of the Church of England (including all the senior hierarchy) displayed so prominently during the 2016 EU referendum campaign and its aftermath (see here, here, here and here).

Recently, Pope Francis has made noises (in the form of an apostolic exhortation) deeply suggestive that he believes open borders to be “pro-life” and the correct starting point for any Christian view of immigration:

102. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)? Saint Benedict did so readily, and though it might have “complicated” the life of his monks, he ordered that all guests who knocked at the monastery door be welcomed “like Christ”,[85] with a gesture of veneration;[86] the poor and pilgrims were to be met with “the greatest care and solicitude”.[87]

We see exactly the same climate in the United States, where the progressive wing of the Church is enthusiastically embracing the concept of “sanctuary cities” and taking an increasingly extreme position against any kind of immigration enforcement. The argument usually goes along the lines of that advanced here by Michael Clark in Sojourners:

I currently live in Houston, Texas, the nation’s fourth largest city and most diverse metropolitan area. We’re a city with no racial or ethnic majority, where nearly 1 in 4 people were born outside the U.S. We’re also home to 400,000 undocumented immigrants, earning us the label “sanctuary city” from some.

[..] but Houston’s status as a sanctuary city requires a response from everyday residents, nearly three quarters of whom claim to be Christians. Will Christians make a sanctuary in our city?

Before we put our defenses up (They’re here illegally! They’re taking our jobs! They need to come in the right way!), let us remember that our allegiance is not primarily to this nation. Jesus himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), and though we are to respect earthly authority (Romans 13:1), when push comes to shove, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Will we be a sanctuary in the tradition of the early church? Will we heed God’s commandment: “the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34)?

Will Christ say to us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison [or an immigration detention center] and you came to visit me”?

Let us remember his words, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

This is manipulative schmaltz of the worst kind. All of it. Anybody can harvest quotes from the Bible to build a case that Christian compassion involves rolling over and doing whatever a particular activist wants at that moment in time. But what we lack in this argument (and we see this over and over again in Christian arguments for mass immigration or open borders) is any acknowledgement that the immediate benefit to one new incoming migrant is not the only important consideration at stake.

When Jesus performed miracles there was no tradeoff, with one individual newly afflicted by the disease which Jesus cured in another, or the alleviated suffering of one person displaced onto somebody else. Nobody died because Lazarus was raised from the dead. Those who were healed at Gennesaret by touching Jesus’ cloak were not offset by a similar number who were struck down in their place. Uncontrolled mass immigration does not work like this. While there is a clear personal benefit to each marginal unskilled migrant  (and we are talking economic migrants here, remember, not refugees) allowed into a developed country, there are offsetting costs to be considered, too.

Sometimes these costs are tangible and quantifiable, such as the additional burden on infrastructure, services and the welfare state. Other times these costs are uncertain and appear only in the form of risk (such as risk to public order or national security). But the net effect is that the “good” done by letting in unlimited numbers of unskilled migrants from poor countries is offset by a commensurate cost. And this cost is no less important or worthy of consideration just because it is diffused across society as a whole rather than concentrated on one individual.

Rod Dreher makes a similar point in religious terms, rebutting the idea that Christian hospitality must be open-ended to the point of self-destruction:

This is why St. Benedict’s rule of hospitality is not open-ended. Monks will certainly welcome guests as if they were Christ, but that welcome does not imply that visitors have the right to stay in the monastery for as long as they like. What’s more, monks cannot welcome guests who, whether by their behavior or their sheer numbers, prevent a monastery from fulfilling its purpose. No stranger has a right to expect the monks to abandon their way of life to accommodate his desires. It’s simply dishonest and manipulative for the Pope to invoke St. Benedict’s example in this way. One likes to think that even Pope Francis would not expect a monastery to fling its gates open and house as many migrants as want to set up camp there, indefinitely.

We know that these negative costs of open borders will be incurred, and that they will be borne by society at large. So why is it more Christ-like to prioritise one over the other? Welcoming the stranger is absolutely the right thing to do when there are no offsetting costs to that act of charity, but what if welcoming the stranger causes a completely innocent third party to suffer harm? What we see, though, is many Christians prioritising the needs of the former over the latter. And in a way this is understandable – the benefit to the migrant is obvious, easy to measure and enjoyable to bestow, while the cost to society is diffuse, sometimes intangible and only detectable on the macro level, not at the individual level. Choosing the tangible and immediate over the intangible and time-delayed is a natural human instinct, albeit a harmful one in this instance.

So perhaps the real question we should be asking ourselves is this: does Jesus want us to think purely from with hearts, or does He also want us to engage our brains?

Viewed this way, the emotionally incontinent “Jesus would let in all the migrants” line of argument is becoming increasingly tiresome and threadbare. Maybe He would, and maybe not – perhaps instead He would work miracles to improve the broken and dysfunctional countries which feed mass migration in the first place, rather than feeding an urban leftist’s fetish for infinite diversity. Presuming that Jesus would opt for the immediate solution, the easy answer, the quick fix, grant the superficial human desire rather than the deeper human need, is to fundamentally misunderstand how Jesus’ ministry unfolded. Claiming that Jesus would advocate open borders is to subscribe to an incredibly two-dimensional, aging hippie version of Jesus, one which reduces the Son of God to little more than a genial Santa Claus figure.

If – as the Christian open borders activists insist when it comes to welcoming strangers – we sought to emulate Jesus’ dealings with and instructions to his contemporaries in our geopolitical dealings then the world would be a very different, and likely much darker place. Nazism and Soviet Communism were not defeated through pacifism, after all. And if we were to take Jesus’ instructions to his immediate disciples and contemporaries as granular instruction for twenty-first century life we would forever be forsaking all material goods, leaving our families to pursue nomadic and ascetic lives of service and chasing after muggers offering them the few personal effects they haven’t already stolen from us. I know of very few Christians who meet – or even seek to meet – this standard, not because they are selfish and evil but because it is generally understood by everyone (except the far Left) that a one-time charitable binge or government wealth expropriation exercise is not a sustainable long-term solution to poverty and want. Dropping everything and working for the immediate benefit of the person in front of us is not necessarily in the interest of millions of other deserving people beyond our vision. Sadly, our loaves and fish do not miraculously multiply; ultimately, we can only improve the common good by teaching the five thousand how to bake and fish for themselves.

It is also very telling that the “Jesus would let them all come in” brigade only seem to want to apply His teachings so far as they can be twisted to support open borders. The activists who go to protests chanting “no human being is illegal”, the often-wealthy coastal leftists who support unconditional amnesty for all and the establishment media who make a point of proudly failing to distinguish between legal and immigration, very few of them would open their New York or San Francisco homes to those cities’ many homeless, share their shiny new Tesla car to help a poor family do the school run every day or hand over their iPhone X to whomever demanded it. Yes, some profess a willingness to pay a higher marginal tax rate themselves in order to fund more plentiful public services, but that is about as far as it goes – keeping the needy firmly at arm’s length. Otherwise, their “generosity” actually consists of nothing more than calling for the government to tear down borders and disregard immigration law, and loudly screaming that anyone who expresses doubt about this reckless course of action is a racist.

But the costs of unskilled immigration (for the kind of mass immigration entailed by open borders would inevitably be of the unskilled kind) tend not to impact the wealthy enclaves where the cognitive, financial and social elites live, falling instead on far less privileged groups and communities. Many of those calling for open borders or more immigration in the name of Jesus also conveniently stand to get cheaper maids, gardeners and cleaners as a result, or live in neighbourhoods where the principle consequence of immigration is a wonderful explosion of diversity in art, culture and food. They are not the ones who typically rely on increasingly stretched public services, compete for low wage jobs or live in areas of higher crime or social tension. Nestled within gated communities or exclusive neighbourhoods, many will be insulated from the kind of widespread social unrest which the implementation of open borders would quickly deliver.

These activists are, in effect, disguising their naked self interest as generosity, benefiting economically and making themselves feel good and progressive while pushing nearly all of the negative externalities of mass immigration onto others. Jesus, let us remember, said nothing about giving away one’s neighbour’s possessions – the whole point is supposed to be one of personal devotion and sacrifice. The Jesus 4 Open Borders crowd, on the other hand, seek largely to give away something which is not theirs, promising to bear a cost which in actual fact they have every intention of palming off onto people further down the social ladder. How very Christian.

Ultimately, if the Jesus 4 Open Borders brigade are to maintain intellectual integrity while holding to their extremist stance they must concede that the policy they want, if retroactively applied decades or centuries ago, would mean that human development would be far less advanced today than is currently the case and that net human suffering might well be significantly higher. They must also concede that if the policy were implemented today, there will be an unknowable but significant opportunity cost in terms of curtailed future human progress and relief of suffering. They must admit that one or other or both of these seismic and overwhelmingly negative changes would be a price worth paying to achieve their particular conception of social justice.

Why? Because the nation state forms the bedrock of our current prosperity and the stability of the world order, and open borders are an all-out assault on the concept of the nation state. Humanity is not homogeneous – some cultures and value systems are objectively superior to others, and even in the case of immigration between broadly similar countries, human nature is such that too fast a rate of immigration creates political resentment and the potential for societal unrest. Implementing open borders in this age, when access to information is so widespread and fast modes of transport so ubiquitous, would immediately trigger a wave of migration from poor and dysfunctional countries that make the present global migration crisis look like a slow trickle.

While immigration activists love to tout the many economic benefits that immigration brings, and rightly so, they generally neglect to point out that there is often a (significant) time lag between the marginal new immigrant arriving and local housing and infrastructure expanding in proportion to service the increased population. In fact, unless deliberate steps are taken by local and national populations, that increase might never happen at all. Even in the best case where the marginal immigrant is a net fiscal contributor, this does not instantly make the freeway a fraction of an inch wider or add a few thousandths of a new bed to the local hospital. This necessary growth in service provision requires political direction and civic planning, and must often be commenced in advance, long before the tax revenue stream from the new immigrant comes online (thus requiring deficit spending in the interim).

Now imagine a situation where developed countries receive greatly inflated numbers of new immigrants who are not in a position to be immediate positive fiscal contributors due to language, cultural or educational barriers which may also hinder quick and easy assimilation into the host country’s culture. Not only do housing and infrastructure continue to lag behind demand, now social tensions are also likely to spike, leading to scenes which make recent anti-immigration protests look like a model of peaceful, reasoned civility. We may well be looking a riots. Martial law. Deepening social division, violence and even deaths.

This kind of environment is not one in which great prosperity is easily created. Unless open borders were implemented everywhere in a coordinated way there would likely be a brain drain of the most educated and productive native citizens (many of whom had likely cheered on open borders while possessing the ability to skip out of town the moment their Utopian fantasy turned into a nightmare) to other more sensible developed countries with functional immigration systems, leading to a self-perpetuating spiral of decline among those advanced Western countries (and it is always Western countries – activists are not demanding that Japan drop its exclusionary immigration practices) which decided to throw open their borders.

In short, one does not have to play the tape forward very far to realise that there are alarmingly few steps between implementing a policy decision which makes woke, “no human being is illegal”, Jesus 4 Open Borders activists feel warm and virtuous on the inside and a situation where everything that makes their country an attractive destination for mass immigration in the first place is utterly snuffed out. Open borders is the kind of rash, ill-considered “Jesus, take the wheel!” policy proposal which its most ardent advocates would never replicate in any other area of their lives.

But of course, none of this matters. Christian immigration activists can adopt the “good-hearted” open borders position at zero cost to themselves, knowing that fully open borders (and the chaos that would be unleashed) will never plausibly be implemented. Campaigning for open borders is an opportunity to appear compassionate without having to either dip one’s hand into one’s pocket or seriously risk the unravelling of one’s present, privileged existence. And rather than wrestling with the far more thorny questions of why so many countries remain so dysfunctional and deeply unattractive to their own citizens, and driving solutions to help those countries help themselves, many Christians can opt instead to abdicate the intellectual work and simply shroud themselves in moral outrage that evil Western governments don’t let anyone and everyone breeze into the country.

As John Zmirak writes in Quadrant Magazine:

When we inflict such radical changes on our society, we should ask ourselves whether we are being faithful stewards of the prosperous, free societies for which our ancestors struggled, fought and sometimes died. Perhaps instead we are squandering our inheritance, for the sake of that happy frisson we experience when we do or say something supporting “openness”, “tolerance”, and “social justice”. We are purchasing approval from our fellow upper-middle-class citizens, with social capital stolen from our children and grandchildren. We are feathering our own cosy nests, while making life even more wretched for our own nations’ native poor—whose ancestors did fight and die, alongside ours, for their descendants’ stakes in the nation. We are stealing the precious gifts of freedom and order from our least-advantaged fellow citizens—the blue-collar workers, the unemployed, the troubled war veterans—in order to salve our confused consciences, and feed our self-esteem.

In the case of mass migration, Christian outrage would be far better directed at the fact that all too often, the West ignores or downplays pressing questions relating to the root cause and does little to help solve the drivers of continued poverty and instability in much of the world, often actively contributing to the problem rather than helping, be it though haphazard military interventions or discriminatory trade policies. This criticism would be absolutely justified, though the solutions are nowhere near as simple as clamouring for open borders.

It may not fit quite so neatly on a protest placard, but I am personally inclined to believe that the more Christian thing is to wrestle with these difficult questions and to make intelligent national and personal self-sacrifice in targeted areas to improve the lot of poor and unstable countries, while pressing for an immigration system which is fair and non-discriminatory to applicants and seeking to find the optimal “sweet spot” where the benefits and costs of immigration, however defined (and it should be an expansive measure) break even.

I’m no theologian, but something tells me that a well-considered policy which diligently aims to deal with the root drivers of mass migration is both superior and more authentically Christian than a rash, emotion-driven and deeply harmful policy whose primary benefit is to make overwhelmingly privileged, first world activists feel better about themselves.

 

Update: A thoughtful and balanced Christian reflection on the proper response to mass migration, written by Luke Bretherton in 2014, can be read here.

Update 2: See also this very thoughtful piece by Stephen Kneale of the Building Jerusalem blog.

Update 3: This is an excellent reflection from Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, published late last year in the Catholic Herald, concluding:

When it comes to welcoming the stranger, the wise must look to the future, and ask what the long term effects will be. What happens to the stranger five, ten, or twenty years down the line? This is the real question. Does the stranger return home? Does the stranger assimilate? Does the stranger live as what the Bible calls a “sojourner”, a resident alien who is not assimilated? Is it a violation of their human rights to ask new arrivals to assimilate?

[..] my impression is not that the Catholic Church has not got a firm teaching on immigration, but rather that the Church has not yet worked out the implications of what welcoming the stranger means. “Welcoming the stranger” sounds like a good principle, but what does it mean in practice? It would be an excellent idea for the Universal Church to hold some sort of synod on this matter. Then the American and European bishops could hear from bishops whose countries have welcomed large numbers of refugees and migrants, such as Kenya, South Africa, and in particular, Jordan and Lebanon. The latter is an important case study, as the huge influx of Palestinians into the country after 1948 and 1967 is generally regarded as one of the contributing factors to the country’s destabilisation and descent into 17 years of savage civil war. Even today Jordan and Lebanon are under huge pressure thanks to the effects of the Syrian conflict.

As for border controls, annoying as they are for first world travellers as well, these have to stay. Every country needs to know who is coming in, who is going out, as this information is useful in the matter of governing the territory. For in immigration matters the greatest of virtues is prudence, which must work hand in hand with justice and charity.

 

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Heathrow Airport Expansion And Decision Paralysis, A Symbol Of British Political Failure

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Government indecision and cowardice over the expansion of Heathrow Airport is just one tangible, high profile manifestation of the British political disease

There is no better analogy for the broken, dysfunctional nature of British politics and strategic government planning than the ongoing saga over whether and how to expand London’s Heathrow Airport, an undertaking which most serious people concede needs to happen yet generations of Cabinet ministers seem quite unable to make a reality.

A year after it finally appeared that the decades-long decision process had at long last produced a result, we now learn that plans for a new terminal are being scaled back and the timeline further extended.

From the Times:

Heathrow is planning to build a mini version of Terminal 5 as part of slimmed-down proposals to expand Europe’s biggest airport.

The airport is considering building a new terminal a few hundred metres west of T5 to handle 25 million passengers a year as part of updated plans for a third runway, The Times has learnt.

Heathrow is also planning to phase all building work over as many as 15 years to reduce the cost of expansion by about £2.5 billion. The plan will be one of a series of options put to public consultation in mid-January.

Heathrow says that the proposals would bring the total cost down to about £14 billion, allowing the airport to keep passenger landing charges close to current levels.

Airlines have been concerned that Heathrow’s private owners would increase charges to pay for the project, potentially pricing out many passengers. At present fees add £21.75 to the price of each ticket. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has indicated that keeping landing charges flat would be a condition of building a third runway. The proposals have to pass a parliamentary vote early next year and be approved by planners in the 2020s.

In other words, the original plans for a new full-size terminal located next to the planned new runway have been downgraded to plans for what amounts to little more than a satellite terminal adjacent to Terminal 5.

And even this reduced ambition has to be justified to the grey mass of naysayers who would sooner go their whole lives without ever making a consequential decision, with Heathrow Airport’s owner now deliberately emphasising what a small, puny and inadequate solution this new micro-terminal would actually be, as though mediocrity and lack of ambition were a selling point (which in today’s Britain they are):

Any comparison with T5, which cost £4.2 billion and was delayed by a four-year planning inquiry, could cause major concerns. However, Heathrow insists that the new terminal would be smaller, catering for 25 million passengers compared with 35.5 million at T5. It would be built in two blocks, creating an initial facility for 15 million.

Wait! We can make this development worse and ensure that it fails even more to keep up with capacity demand by the time it gets built! Give Heathrow Airport another year and they will be proposing little more than a wedding marquee tent and a few folding tables.

The government understandably does not want air passengers to pay an unbearably steep cost to finance the expansion, yet it does not occur to them that adequate relief could easily be provided to passengers by cutting the ludicrously high Air Passenger Duty, an exercise in environmental virtue-signalling which makes Britain one of the most expensive and unattractive countries to fly from, and which is close to being a national embarrassment.

A real Conservative government might see the ideal opportunity and justification for a tax cut in this case, but sadly we do not have a real Conservative government at present – we have Theresa May’s strong and stable government, limping from day to day by offering as many concessions to the Left as is humanly possible without changing the Tory party logo from a tree to a hammer and sickle.

Of course there are some very specific reasons why countries like China and the United Arab Emirates can complete vast civil engineering projects in the same time it takes Britain to convene a planning committee – an authoritarian government, the absence of inconvenient democracy, few planning regulations, lax health and safety standards, cheap labour and/or a tolerance for slave labour being among the chief distinguishing factors.

And indeed one of the key factors which sets Britain apart from certain other countries is the importance we place on our preserving our heritage, our built environment and taking local concerns into account when giving the green light to major new projects. Any government can quickly see to the construction of a giant, soulless mega-mall in the desert, or a dubious national ego-boosting skyscraper in a locale where there is no real need to build upward. It takes far more inspiration and resourcefulness to create and expand critical national infrastructure or important new commercial developments in sympathy with natural surroundings which have often existed for many centuries.

But still, Britain is too hesitant when it comes to authorising critical new infrastructure projects of national importance, and our failure holds us back as a country. Whether it is central government failing to bite the bullet and commit to a decision for fear of political fallout, NIMBY campaigns effectively trumping the national interest with the local or ill-considered privatisations or public-private partnerships allowing responsibility for key decisions to slip through the cracks, decisions which should be made at a local level in a healthy democracy are instead commandeered by central government, and strategic decisions which should take two years instead take twenty.

One of the very first pieces written on this blog nearly six years ago lambasted the Tory-LibDem coalition government for kicking the can down the road on Heathrow airport expansion. It is a subject I have returned to again and again in subsequent years – and yet we are no closer to striking ground on a project which is essential to maintaining the pre-eminence of Heathrow as a key European hub. At this point, even if one of the alternative schemes (such as Gatwick expansion or a new airport in the Thames estuary) is chosen instead of a third runway and new terminals at Heathrow, we are rapidly reaching the point where any decision is better than no decision.

And as it is with Heathrow Airport expansion, so it is with nearly everything else in British politics. There are an array of slow-burning, pressing issues facing this country which successive governments have either tackled half-heartedly or ignored altogether. It is wrong to call them “crises” as there will be no sudden national implosion if they are not all fixed within six months, but our continued failure to tackle the housing shortage, low worker productivity, education reform, healthcare reform and immigration leads to a slow and steady erosion of trust in politics and our democratic institutions, as well as making Britain a less attractive place to live, work or invest.

The retrenchment of British ambition and capability is not emblemised by Brexit, as many tremulous Remainers like to claim. The symptoms have been all around us for years, decades even, and we have been too lazy or calculating to subordinate the short-term political interest to the long-term strategic need. Look at the big issues facing the West and the world in general in 2017 – global migration flows, Islamist terror, globalisation, outsourcing, automation and more – and there is not one of these complex problems which we as a country have failed to comprehensively sweep under the rug or otherwise avoid meeting the challenge.

Even on those occasions when the people have recognised burning problems and the need for bold new solutions, public opinion (such as on Brexit and immigration) has been repeatedly slapped down over the years by a cohort of politicians who think it is their job to explain and defend the current status quo to the citizenry rather than change the status quo according to the demands of the citizenry.

The managerialist, consensus politics which has characterised Britain since the end of the Thatcher and Major governments is partially justifiable when the economy, society and the world are operating in something like steady-state, and governments have but to tweak a few dials here or there to keep the system running smoothly. But this brand of aloof technocracy is lethal to national prosperity and security in times of discontinuity such as the period in which we find ourselves today, when the prevailing political consensus is conspicuously broken and the worn-out old policy prescriptions no longer command sufficient confidence or support.

As this blog has been warning repeatedly, and will continue to warn – even if nobody listens – the time for denial and evasions is over. But so too is the time for cosmetic, superficial pseudo-reforms or scattergun crisis management. Rather, we need to develop a set of mutually supporting new policies based on a clear analysis and understanding of the challenges facing modern Britain and the various ways in which they are interlinked. This is what the CPS did in 1977 with their “Stepping Stones” report, paving the way for Margaret Thatcher’s transformative government, and that is what we must do again today.

And until such time as we demand political solutions and visionary government equal to the challenges of the stormy present, every aspect of future Britain will soon come to resemble the cautionary tale of Heathrow Airport – dilapidated, twenty years behind the curve, fatally stymied by strategic indecision and increasingly avoided by anyone with the means to do so.

 

UPDATE – 19 December

Based on positive reader feedback to this and other articles, I am actually now trying to do something to turn this idea (the need to respond to discontinuity with radical but coordinated new policies) from a mere blog post to an actual project or initiative in the real world. We clearly can’t leave it to the usual inhabitants of Westminster to do this on their own – new ideas and fresh faces will be needed, just as they were in 1977.

If anyone who reads this article feels called to action, please do get in touch with me, either using the “contact” menu link at the top of the page, or directly at semipartisansam@gmail.com

Thanks.

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Expanding Heathrow Is A Start, But Now We Must End The War On Aviation By Cutting Air Passenger Duty

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THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED AT CONSERVATIVES FOR LIBERTY

 

With the government’s announcement that Heathrow will finally get a third runway, it is time to end the decades-old war against aviation by slashing Air Passenger Duty too

About this time every year, my Texan wife and I glance at the calendar and realise, with dread, that the time has come to book plane tickets to the States for Christmas. To be clear, the dread has nothing to do with visiting my in-laws, whom I love very much – no, what ties my stomach in knots every autumn is the nagging question of how much money the British government intends to extort from me for the privilege of flying away from this rainy island for a couple of weeks of Texas sunshine.

Every year, Air Passenger Duty – that invidious, regressive, anti-business tax – creeps ever upward. And while the government may deign to excuse certain people from this extortion (children under sixteen were made exempt this year, in a blaze of self-congratulatory glory), for the rest of us APD keeps on inching upward. At a time when falling oil prices should mean that air fares reach historic lows, in Britain at least the cost of air travel is kept artificially high thanks to this ill-conceived tax – by far the highest in the developed world.

And why? Primarily as a sloppy wet governmental kiss to environmentalists, who some time ago decided that nothing poses a greater threat to the Earth than a working class person enjoying a holiday in Florida, or taking a cheap excursion to one of the sunnier parts of Europe. Air Passenger Duty is nothing so much as the collective howl of outrage from well-heeled leftist environmentalists that poor people are forgetting their place (i.e. receiving benefits and being thankful for them) and daring to travel the world as wealthy people did before them.

Remember the leftist credo, everybody: Fashionable celebrities flying private jets to Davos to moralise about carbon emissions made by the rest of us = good. Nasty working class folk flying Ryanair for a fortnight in Lanzarote or a stag weekend in Riga = bad.

Now that the government has taken the painful and very belated decision to proceed with the expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport (something which should have happened a long time ago) there will be inevitable calls for punishing new environmental levies to offset the terrible “damage” that is supposedly wrought when the state takes its jackboot off the throat of the aviation industry. There will likely be calls to raise Air Passenger Duty even further to help pay for this crucial national investment, even though the exorbitant tax already places Britain at a huge comparative disadvantage.

The government must resist any and all calls to raise APD. In fact, there could be few clearer signs that this government is committed to championing UK aviation and supporting the economy through the uncertainty of Brexit than a bold, dramatic cut in Air Passenger Duty from the current level of £13 short haul / £ 73 long haul / £146 premium cabin rates back down to the single digits. When my wife and I connect in Houston or Dallas Fort Worth on our way from London to the Rio Grande Valley, we pay the state of Texas no more than a few dollars for the privilege of transiting through DFW or George Bush Intercontinental airport – and both of those hubs put London’s Heathrow and Gatwick to shame.

At a time when the government is considering cutting Corporation Tax as low as 10% as an incentive to firms to invest, grow and remain in the United Kingdom, we should not be discouraging business executives and holidaymakers (72% of whom come to the UK by air) from choosing Britain by mugging them before they even step off the jet bridge. Cutting Corporation Tax is great, but the government should not forget individuals, who currently labour under all manner of punitive stealth taxes and would greatly welcome the relief. Neither should the government forget the aviation industry, which is every bit as vital as shipping to an island nation, and which for too long has been stymied and suppressed by cowardly politicians who refused to take critical decisions in the national interest.

With the long-overdue decision to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, the government has finally called an end to years of dithering and inaction and made a necessary decision in support of the economy. But the benefits of this decision could yet be killed in the crib unless Britain also signals its intention to stop being the high-tax, anti-aviation country which prioritises impractical, virtue-signalling environmentalism over necessary infrastructure investment and tax reform.

There is no earthly reason why you or I should have to pay £73 for the privilege of taking off from Heathrow Airport, whether it has two runways or three. And if Theresa May and Philip Hammond are serious about signalling that Britain is open for business then slashing this one small but immensely harmful tax would be a great place to start.

 

THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED AT CONSERVATIVES FOR LIBERTY

 

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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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Just Build The Damn Runway

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This article was first published at Conservatives for Liberty

Build the third runway at Heathrow airport. And a fourth. Build new runways at London’s Gatwick and Stansted airports too. And then build a helipad directly on top of the homes and gardens of all the selfish, hand-wringing, growth-averse NIMBY naysayers who think that their decision to live by an airport gives them veto rights over Britain’s economic future

Chicago’s O’Hare international airport has seven runways. Count ’em. Seven. Five of these runways run east-west and the other two run diagonally. So long as your aircraft possesses an engine and wheels, there is almost certainly a runway at O’Hare suitable for landing without the need to circle in a never-ending holding pattern before eventually lining up for approach and touching down an hour after actually arriving above the city.

You can fly in and out of Chicago quickly, efficiently and cheaply because generations of local political leaders – for all their many other faults – have understood that aviation provides a huge boost to the economy, and that a city which makes access and connection quick and convenient for all types of traveller will surely reap the economic rewards.

Nine hours away in London, this common-sense attitude is sorely lacking. Despite the fact that no new full-length runway has been constructed in London or the south-east of England since the 1940s – when we were still digging ourselves out of the rubble of the Blitz – Britain is wasting time, energy and precious economic opportunities debating whether or not to increase airport capacity at any one of several implausible choices in south-eastern England beside the obvious option of committing to London’s Heathrow Airport, the largest and most popular.

Anyone thinking that the release of the Airports Commission report by Sir Howard Davies (summary: we should probably expand Heathrow, but Gatwick will do in a pinch) would bring this debate to a timely end were deluding themselves. David Cameron’s shrewd political radar is matched only by his lack of political courage – the Tories are terrified of angering neighbouring voters by giving the green light for more noise pollution and traffic congestion around Heathrow.

Worse still, although the Tories are hardly seen as a party of tree-hugging eco warriors their likely candidate to replace Boris “Island” Johnson as Mayor of London, Zac Goldsmith, is also dead set against the idea of expanding Heathrow despite the overwhelming logic behind committing to the major hub airport.

The never-ending question of whether or not to do the obvious and expand Heathrow airport is typical of Britain’s ridiculous approach to important decisions about critical national infrastructure. First we deny the existence of a problem or need. Then we delude ourselves that we have plenty of time to consider the issue from all angles, while better governed countries leapfrog us left, right and centre. Then we establish a time-wasting commission which seeks – in that peculiarly British way – to avoid angering anyone, while actually enraging everyone with its equivocation. And finally, twenty years later, we come to a tortuous decision – at which point anything we reluctantly build is woefully inadequate to current demand.

Not content with fighting the expansion of Heathrow airport tooth and nail, others are opening a new front in the war on aviation with a sanctimonious new attack on frequent fliers, who many left-wingers see not as vital contributors to global business and tourism but rather as parasitic city-hoppers guilty of overconsumption and leaving deadly trails of CO2 in their wake.

Looking wistfully back at the time when an Icelandic volcano eruption grounded flights between Europe and America, the Guardian opines:

The loss of the global economy’s airborne arteries could have been a death knell for business. But, the world didn’t end and people adapted astonishingly quickly in ways that had other environmental benefits.

There was an upward spike in the use of video-conferencing facilities saving business travellers time, money and fatigue […]

What’s more, stranded people turned to each other for help. The Swedish carpool movement spread its horizons, setting up a new Facebook group called Carpool Europe to share cars and rides. Twitter came into its own with hashtags like #putmeup and #getmehome.

You know when else the British people came together to make the best of a bad situation and relied on the kindness of strangers to get by? The Blitz. But no-one is proposing that we invite the Luftwaffe back for a second crack at carpet-bombing our major cities, because although disruptive and traumatic events do force us to come up with inventive ways to survive and keep the wheels turning, it would usually be far better if the negative situation occurred at all.

This is especially true of self-inflicted economic wounds like the proposed frequent flyer tax or the stubborn failure to expand and upgrade key national infrastructure out of genuine (or cynical) concern for the environment. If we continue to starve London of connections to the expanding markets of countries like China, the world will not end. But we will be overtaken by other, better governed European countries and we will all be immeasurably poorer in the long term.

There are times when we absolutely should put the conservation of our planet and natural environment at the forefront of government decision making and planning. But there are also times when our commitment to human progress and building a more prosperous society full of material abundance should be our single-minded goal. The tedious, seemingly never-ending debate about whether or not to build one solitary new runway in Britain falls firmly into the second category.

When formulating government policy or making critical decisions about our national infrastructure, we should subject our thought processes to one key test: does the proposal look to the past or the future? And if the proposal looks to the past – making use of outdated technology, serving a saturated market or simply mollifying people who are scared of progress and change – we should kill it in the crib.

For example, we should not be rushing to build new coal-fired power stations to meet our future energy needs, no matter what spurious claims ‘clean coal’ may make for itself. Rather, we should invest heavily in nuclear power and renewables (home grown where possible) to ensure Britain’s long-term energy independence and national security interests.

Local interests and feelings are important, but there are times when we must think and act as one country, with important national needs and challenges to be faced together. And yes, sometimes this will mean bulldozing over the objections of those blinkered, parsimonious campaigners who seem to find an objection to just about any form of pleasure or economic activity.

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?

When it comes to coal, by all means let Britain keep it in the ground and in the twentieth century, where it belongs. Regulate the life out of the fracking industry too, if you must, so long as you are willing to explain to the unemployed man why your environmentalist convictions should trump his right to work.

But for heaven’s sake, let’s not continue to suppress Britain’s aviation industry – which is so important and contributes so much – just to burnish our green credentials.

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This article was first published at Conservatives for Liberty

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