The costs of a UKIP-lite immigration policy outweigh the short-term benefits

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Harry Fraser

When Nigel Farage, the leader of a party that feels the need to define itself as ‘non-racist’ on its official website, thinks your immigration policy is ‘nasty and unpleasant’, then the chances are that something is wrong with it…

Last week, the Home Office launched a billboard campaign aimed at illegal immigrants, urging them to hand themselves in. The large billboards, placed on the back of vans, feature the slogan “Go home or face arrest” and are currently on a trial tour around six London boroughs with high immigrant populations. Illegal immigrants are told to text “HOME” to a number for free advice and help with travel documents. Mark Harper, the immigration minister, describes the initiative as “an alternative to being led away in handcuffs.”

David Cameron seems to be taking more and more leaves out of a right-wing popularist handbook, and is increasingly shadowing the behaviour of a party he once described as a collection of “fruitcakes” and “closet racists”. With the prospect of UKIP repeating their recent electoral success in next year’s European elections, the Prime Minister is trying to out-populist the champions of populism.

Irony died when Mr. Farage condemned this hard-line approach to immigration as nasty, but whilst his criticisms are ironic, there is truth in what he is saying. This campaign simply is nasty, divisive and pointless. Sure, it hammers home the message that the Conservatives are tough on immigration, but is it the right sort of tactic a responsible government should humour? The costs are sure to outweight the short-term electoral benefits.

Firstly, the campaign can be easily criticised as ‘nasty’ racist propaganda. Left-wing commentator Sunny Hundal drew obvious similarities between the Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ slogan and the rhetoric of the National Front and BNP. Whilst the adverts are not racist themselves, should the government be so brazen about promoting and pandering to the voices of the fringe right?

Secondly, why is a subject as delicate as immigration being handled so coldly and with such brashness? Instead of approaching it with some tactfulness, the government has made a habit recently of trying to look tough on immigration and coming across divisive. Earlier this month the Home Office controversially tweeted there will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants with the new immigration bill’ alongside a picture of a dark-skinned man being led in to the back of a van by armoured policemen. Are whistle-dog tactics such as this wise at a time when British institutions are still accused of being racist?

In response to the launch of the billboard campaign, the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London held an ‘emergency tension-monitoring’ meeting with Home Office officials and warned that the initiative had created ‘a sense of apprehension, tension and confusion’ amongst its clients. For a ‘compassionate conservative’, Cameron has acted consistently callously in regards to immigration…

As well as being nasty and divisive, the effectiveness of such a campaign is doubtful. As Bishop Patrick Lynch identifies, the demographics of undocumented migration have changed in recent years. The vast majority of illegal immigrants are people who overstay the terms of their visas, especially students. So instead of parading around pseudo-fascist slogans in ethnically diverse boroughs of London to pick up the odd dissatisfied voter, the government ought to focus on working with institutions dealing with immigrants and our own border control to solve this issue. Prominent Conservatives such as Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi back a one-off amnesty policy that would provide a boost to the economy coinciding with tougher border policies.

There are ways to solve the illegal immigration puzzle without resorting to the language and the tactics of the far right. Unfortunately this suggestion was rejected by the party hierarchy, who’ll have next year’s European elections in mind and irrationally fear a repeat of UKIP’s 2013 summer surge.

So whilst trying to appear strong and tough on illegal immigrants, the government in reality has come across nasty, divisive and incompetent. Over a decade ago, the current Home Secretary once bemoaned that some people thought the Conservative Party was “the nasty party.” One way of rectifying this would be to avoid decrepit political stunts such as this.

Follow Harry on Twitter.

What does Jo Johnson’s appointment to Downing Street mean?

Nik Darlington 9.55am

So the backroom shake-up in Downing Street is causing a mini stir this morning.

Leaving aside the prominent headline for a moment, our biggest congratulations go to the TRG’s vice-president, Jane Ellison, who has been appointed by the Prime Minister to a new policy board of MPs. Jane is joined by backbench colleagues Jesse Norman, George Eustice, Margot James and Jake Berry, as well as former ministers Nick Gibb and Peter Lilley.

The biggest news of the morning, however, is that the Mayor of London’s younger brother shall be heading up the Number 10 Policy Unit. In a way it is a shame it is taking the gloss off the GDP growth figures in light of the BBC’s crowing it would be a triple-dip recession - but perhaps the timing tells us Downing Street was at least half expecting bad news.

That is by the by now. What does it mean?

First and most importantly, I expect the Lords & Commons cricket club shall have to make do without one of its better cricketers. Belligerent with the bat and a bowler with real pace and bounce, Jo Johnson was limbering up for a promising summer, bordering on unplayable at times in pre-season nets (though fastidiously did he protect his polished new cherry) and even electing to don a lid when batting. The club shall be even more reliant on Peter Bone’s left-arm tweakers.

Secondly, it marks an about-turn for David Cameron, who till now has employed a civil servant in the role. It demonstrates a beefing up of Number 10’s political clout and provides a direct link between policymaking and the parliamentary party.

Yet how cosy and effective (to all tastes) that link shall be, only time will tell. Jo Johnson has done a stint as a party whip, so backbenchers have had plenty of experience of his enforcing Government policy, less so working with them to formulate policy (which we presume is the main point behind the switch-around).

Nonetheless, the third significant point is that Jo Johnson is easily one of the more cerebral of the 2010 intake and with his hinterland (handful of degrees, financier, journalist, edited the Lex column etc), he will bring an intellectual thrust to the role. Again, this might grate with backbenchers who yearn for a more bread and circuses brand of politics, or a harking back to the black and white certainties of Thatcherism (neglecting, of course, to recall how reliant Mrs Thatcher’s policies, particularly economic, were on intellectuals).

He is also relatively pro-European, at least significantly more so than the vast majority of MPs. This may be something to do with his FT background (though media organisations tend to be self-selecting) or simply that he has actually spent some years studying and working on the continent. Some might make more of this than it is worth, given that David Cameron’s EU policy (in many ways markedly more Eurosceptic than Mrs Thatcher) is largely decided. Nonetheless, Jo Johnson is no John Redwood (the latter, for instance, is far cannier a bowler).

Then there’s the brouhaha about his older brother, which many in the media will be fixated on between now and the next election (and perhaps beyond). The sensible will do best to ignore it.

All in all, it is an intriguing development. Jo Johnson is a brilliant pick for the policy unit. As a go-between for Number 10 and the parliamentary party, time shall tell, the onus perhaps resting more with backbenchers than the man in question.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Press freedom, or press responsibility? It is time we checked the most powerful organisations in Britain

Giles Marshall 9.50am

Eight-six MPs and peers have signed a letter urging David Cameron not to accept any recommendation for statutory oversight of the press, should such be made by Lord Leveson in his much anticipated report.

In many ways it is encouraging that so many legislators, themselves often the target of press attacks, should be so concerned about what they have termed an issue of free speech. They are right in wanting to steer clear of political control of any media outlet. Yet the issue for the British press is no longer really one of free speech; it is one of responsibility.

The Leveson Inquiry’s exhaustive hearings unearthed example after example of astonishing abuse of press power. This wasn’t simply the willingness of some newspapers to use illegal methods to obtain information; it was also their relentless commitment to the harassment and persecution of those who they decided, often on a whim or on the barest of hard knowledge, to victimise.

Famous examples of non-celebrity figures include the McCanns and Chris Jefferies, but they were hardly the first. There have been many more low-profile examples. The stories of Juliet Shaw and an innocent deputy headmistress, both caught up in the Daily Mail’s tangled web of media ethics, serve as a reminder of just what happens when there isn’t a major inquiry into the conduct of the press.

The Sun managed to identify an innocent man as a paedophile and never produced an apology, so weak is the current system of press regulation. There are plentiful, regular examples of how an out of control press - particularly the tabloids - smear people’s reputations with no requirement to apologise or make restitution when they are proved - as they so often are - wrong. The intrusion of the press into private lives continues unabated. The best observation of press antics comes at the moment from heroic blogs such as Tabloid Watch and The Media Blog, which makes depressing reading.

The MPs who signed the letter today rightly consider that the ability of the press to investigate political and commercial interests without fear or favour should be unhindered. Agreed.

The problem is that it so often doesn’t. It isn’t MPs or political interests who require the defence of a proper system of regulatory control. It is the little people, the small people’s interests, who urgently require this support. The very people MPs should be representing and whose interests they should be considering. It is in some ways astonishing that the eighty-six signatories of today’s letter have been so willing to leap to the defence of powerful, vested media interests, but have remained mute when ordinary people have been victims of press abuse.

Then again, many politicians mix freely with owners, editors and reporters. Mr Cameron’s friendship with Rebekah Brooks; Michael Gove’s past employment with Rupert Murdoch’s Times; Boris Johnson’s present employment with the Barclay twins’ Daily Telegraph; Jeremy Hunt’s cringeworthy emails and texts to a senior aide of the Murdoch corporation - all these relationships betoken an unhealthy danse macabre that wholly fails to protect us from a rampaging, lazy, abusive press.

The Guardian has published a poll finding today suggesting that 79 per cent of the public want a powerful regulatory body to control the press. It would be difficult to find an issue on which there is such variance between our representatives and ourselves.

Preventing the press from publishing untrue statements that irreparably damage people’s lives is not the same - nowhere near - as political control and it is a pity that today’s letter’s signatories don’t realise this.

It was Stanley Baldwin many years ago - using a comparison possibly offered to him by his cousin Rudyard Kipling - who noted that the press “have great power without any responsibility. The prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

Too much of the British media has failed to show even the slightest hint of willingness to regulate themselves. It is time they were subject to the same strictures as every other organisation in this country, for they wield the greatest power, and power should never be allowed to go unchecked.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

PMQs review: David Cameron demonstrates the virtue of being oneself

Jack Blackburn 3.55pm

It was not the most inspiring session of PMQs. The Leader of the Opposition’s strategy was non-existent. Questions were a bit scatter-gun and he didn’t really make any points. Perhaps it was the impending Hillsborough statement that made the atmosphere a touch quieter than typical.

But if it was just for the day, Mr Cameron should consider keeping this style.

Edward was calling him “Mr Butch”, but today Dave was Mr Chillaxing. He was quiet, controlled, on top of his brief. He didn’t lose his cool at any point. He didn’t shout. He didn’t even tell a female Member to calm down.

He only changed tone to crack a few jokes (apparently the Labour party has hired a new guru called Mr J. Hacker, who has written a book called The Road to Nowhere, allowing DC to roll out some lines from his “Cheap but effective” line).

There was even some substance as well, as the Prime Minister enjoyed some positive employment figures. Indeed, with his chillax on, Mr Cameron seemed to make more sense. He was (as ever) accused of complacency by the Labour party leader, but he actually came across as thoughtful, and honest, at one point saying the Mr Miliband was “absolutely right, the long-term employment figured are disturbing”.

After a year when the Prime Minister’s fortunes have seemingly mirrored those of Glasgow Rangers FC, one of his smaller problems has been his performance at PMQs, as he became frequently and easily riled by Ed Balls, and seemed to be struggling with Mr Miliband’s improved act.

Today he seemed like a changed man and more prime ministerial than he has been for a while, an impression backed up by his well-judged statement on Hillsborough.

On Monday, Mr Cameron was Boris Johnson’s warm-up man at the end of the Team GB parade, the Mayor of London delivering a rip-roaring speech.

Mr Johnson’s challenges with public speaking are different from the Prime Minister’s, but the Mayor is effective because he is always himself. Mr Cameron could learn from this. He is a thoughtful and intelligent man. If he continues to take his time and bring these qualities to the fore, he may find that he engages better with the public.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA

Reshuffle round-up: inside gossip and double-edged swords

Nik Darlington 4.41pm

The dust has settled on David Cameron’s first Cabinet reshuffle. The press pack has largely plumped for Jeremy Hunt’s appointment as Health Secretary and Justine Greening’s ejection from Transport as the main stories. The former is deemed suitably rehabilitated since Leveson to restore public faith in the Government’s NHS policies; while the latter is off to DfID, ostensibly to clear the path for a third runway at Heathrow.

At least that is the view of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and it is hard to disagree. Above all, it makes her appointment only a year ago look inept and extant policymaking ad hoc and desperate.

The junior ministerial changes look set to begin, with the Lib Dems’ Nick Harvey making way at the MoD, it seems as a trade ito get David Laws back into the Cabinet. As far as I am aware, Mr Harvey acquitted himself well as armed forces minister, but the return of Mr Laws is a long-awaited boost to the Coalition.

Meanwhile, Nick Herbert has apparently quit as police minister, which begs the question, which job wouldn’t he accept? It seems Damien Green will take his place, an appointment I thoroughly welcome. The changes among the lower ranks look set to continue into the evening.

So back to the Cabinet. I wrote about Ken Clarke this morning, and shall only reiterate that he remains a figure of vital importance to this Government and to the Prime Minister. A veritable, jolly ‘minister for the Today programme’, he is, as a friend suggested earlier, perhaps becoming something of a Willie Whitelaw to Mr Cameron.

Andrew Mitchell’s appointment as Chief Whip is a double edged sword in two ways. In itself, it feels like a good decision - until one considers how well Mr Mitchell ran DfID and how vulnerable that department (and its enviously coveted budget) might become in the hands of a disappointed Justine Greening.

Furthermore, Mr Mitchell is on no accounts universally loved. He has numerous friends and fans, of course, but the fears about his disciplinarian manner are already being well-aired. Matthew Parris said on the BBC this morning that the new Chief Whip will “either stop a rebellion or start a rebellion”.

Earlier today, one Tory backbencher mentioned Sir George Young - removed as Leader of the House in order to accommodate the demoted Andrew Lansley - as a superior candidate for 12 Downing Street. “Imagine having to go in to see Sir George and him calmly to tell you how ‘disappointed’ he was - you would feel awful.”

Elsewhere, the long-serving Oliver Heald is an apparently popular choice as Solicitor General, replacing the similarly popular Edward Garnier, who took his sacking with enough good grace to appear cheerfully on the telly immediately afterwards. With Ken moved, it is also awfully good to see that Dominic Grieve keeps his job as Attorney General.

Which brings me on to the Ministry of Justice, which now has a non-lawyer as Secretary of State (the Guardian has also picked up on this). Chris Grayling has done a very good job at DWP, not least in dismissing the claptrap spouted about the work experience programme, but his appointment is being lauded in several quarters for the wrong reasons. The likes of the Sun, the Daily Mail and ConservativeHome will surely be delighted. I hope Mr Grayling goes some way to disappointing them and continuing with the important reforms of the past couple of years.

The only other news of note is what hasn’t happened. Tim Montgomerie didn’t get his wish of Michael Gove as Conservative Party Chairman (that bauble goes to Grant Shapps), which thankfully means he can continue his exceptional work as Education Secretary. Iain Duncan Smith remains at DWP, overseeing the crucial implementation of his welfare reforms. And, of course, George Osborne is still Chancellor - but then only the truly cuckoo believe anything different.

I doubt there will be many promotions for the class of 2010, though I suspect we’ll see some worthy roles for their 2005 predecessors. The speculation shall, I’m sure, continue all the same.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

The Tories’ Historic Problem

Giles Marshall 10.00am

The Conservative Party returned to form in the wake of the local election results. The always fragile veneer of unity, that has been cracking regularly pretty well since the last general election, took a few more seismic hits.

Back out of their holes were the right-wing backbenchers and leader writers prescribing another dose of rightism, or “authentic conservatism” to use its current parlance, as a solution to the Tories’ electoral ills. 

Most laughable of all was the elevation of Boris Johnson – the one bright spot in the Tories’ election misery – as the champion of this authenticity.  Yes indeed, the Gay Pride marcher, serial adulterer and bike fanatic is, apparently, just the man to return us to those stoical social values of old.  Get thee behind us, evil modernising Dave Cameron and make way for Boris!

Well, Boris’ election victory as the triumph of personality over politics has been well commented on elsewhere – entertainingly by Jerry Hayes on Dale and Company, and perceptively and eloquently by Matthew D’Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph – while Craig has had his say on these pages.

What is worth looking at, if only because it offers us a useful perspective, is the historic problem of Tory election performance.

Go back far enough, to the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s, and the Tory election graph always seemed to be a source of optimism. Often victorious, certainly nation-encompassing, its occasional blips almost always a precursor to a return to power. 

This remarkable trend seemed to be further enhanced after Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 election victory, and two successive triumphs in which she thumped the opposition.  Even John Major, in 1992, carried the party through adverse polls to victory. So what has happened since and where did the malaise set in? 

The reality is that the Tory election problem has been a long time coming, and can be traced back to the very point of its triumph, under Margaret Thatcher herself. What Mrs Thatcher’s election victories disguised with their scale was the retreat of Toryism across too many regions of the UK. The gradual reduction of Tory representation in the northern cities and Celtic lands continued apace under her stewardship, leaving the party as essentially the vehicle of the prosperous south and east of England. 

Perhaps this was the necessary price to pay for the polarising policies of the 1980s, policies that some would argue were unavoidable if Britain’s decline was to be averted.

But when the party was finally kicked out in 1997 many of its members – and certainly the majority of its MPs – refused to comprehend the message being delivered by the electorate. Ordinary voters had had their fill of Thatcherism. 

The Conservative party, however, seemed to have barely got going, as it embraced the Thatcherite agenda with even more vigour, turning its light towards Europe and social issues. The reason for this misunderstanding was down to the way in which Mrs Thatcher had been removed. 

The coup of 1990 was a rough and ready response to the poll tax problem and the arguably more serious destabilisation of her Cabinet over Europe.

After ten years in power, the leader herself was unable to provide any obvious solution to this twin-peaked volcano and was rudely removed, in a way suffered by no Tory leader before her.

The electorate was deprived of its chance to deliver a final verdict on the leaderene, while Tory MPs and members could forever after claim – correctly – that she had never suffered an election defeat as leader.

Had Margaret Thatcher been allowed to continue the course of her leadership and take her party into the 1992 (or it might have been 1991) election, the Thatcherite bubble would have been punctured and the Conservatives might just have been able to embark on a proper period of reconstitution, untroubled by the poison of an improper coup. As it is, too many Conservatives continue to prescribe the wrong medicine at times of electoral vulnerability. 

David Cameron managed to get the party as far as he did in 2010 because he had understood the need to speak to a non-Thatcherite electorate. Some of that modernising strategy may have thrown up a few red herrings, notably same-sex marriage, but it remains emphatically the right approach for a party that still needs to prove it can connect with the electorate at large.  

It is not even clear that full-blown austerity is either the right approach or the one that engenders the confidence of British people. Somewhere out there is a careful balance of cuts without economic pain. It may well be what we are seeking.

Until the Conservative party truly gets over its Thatcher moment, it will never genuinely start to become a national party once again. The Thatcherite agenda is not some sort of holy writ version of ‘authentic conservatism’. It was a controversial panacea for its time (drawn as much from nostrums of classical liberalism as anything else) that found its place in a pragmatic party of broader principles. 

It is time to embrace the 21st century.

It is simple: we cannot allow the offensive and malicious Ken Livingstone back into City Hall

Craig Barrett 11.39am

Polls polls polls! "Boris lead narrows!" "Ken less popular than his party!" "Boris more popular than Tories!" "Only 12% of people believe that Ken is honest!"

While opinion polling has become much more sophisticated, anyone who watched the 1992 general election coverage on Easter Monday would know that only one poll matters: when you enter your booth and wield your pencil (unless you live in Tower Hamlets, of course).

With just one week to go until the election for London’s mayor, the current polling serves only to allow campaigners to twist and spin to whatever advantage possible and to remind people (like me) that we should be doing more to help.

I feel a bit sorry in some ways for the London Labour party. They have had a candidate forced on them who seems to owe no loyalty to them barring the right to campaign under their banner and deploy their activists for his own ends.

Had Labour picked someone else, Mr Livingstone, who believes the mayoralty his divine right, would have run as an independent candidate as he did in 2000.

Mr Livingstone’s campaign is a goulash of undeliverable policies, bold but inaccurate pronouncements about his Tory opponent, and craft attempts to shift the media’s focus away from his own activities. It is not so much that Mr Livingstone is a stranger to the truth, it is more that lying and smoke-screens come easier to him.

To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that he has no power to restore the EMA, or that the TfL ‘cash mountain’ is intended for investment rather than fare giveaways. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that the only experience he has to validate his comments on Boris Johnson’s tax affairs comes from his own hypocritical tax avoidance. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that what spews from his mouth is offensive to one group of Londoners or another.

Mr Livingstone has given us no compelling reasons to vote for him; no policies on which any Londoner can be certain of his delivering. His crony-aplenty, wasteful record in City Hall speaks for itself.

Contrast that figure with Boris Johnson, who has actually delivered on his promises - whether policing, sustainable housing, tax freezes and others - and whose plans are both costed and practical.

But above all else, consider two vital points. First, I am not old enough to remember Mr Livingstone’s reign as leader of the Greater London Council but I know enough to understand it for what it was: a publicly funded one man crusade of self-justification, with money poured down the drain to embarrass Mrs Thatcher’s government or to challenge its actions in the courts.

The Mayor of London must speak for the city with an independent voice, but they must also be able to co-operate with central government to ensure the best for the city. For at least the first three years of the next mayor’s tenure there will be a Conservative politician in 10 Downing Street and while Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron may not be close personally, they do at least have a mutual understanding and interest.

Boris Johnson is a doughty fighter who has regularly exercised his inherent independence to seek the best for London. Mr Livingstone’s egomania and pathological hatred of the Tories will mean that were he to be elected next week, it would be the start of at least three years of pitched battles on meaningless fronts, all paid for by London’s rate payers.

Second, and perhaps most important, Mr Livingstone’s public utterances over the past few months demonstrate the type of man he is.

Whether suggesting that a councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham ought to “burn in hell…and…flesh be flayed for demons for all eternity”; whether suggesting that gay bankers in the Middle East could be mutilated; whether suggesting that London’s Jewish population is too rich to vote Labour; or whether simply another cheap insult at a critic, Mr Livingstone appears oblivious to the effect of his own words.

It is not good enough for the Labour party to say “Ken is just being Ken”, or words to that effect. Mr Livingstone is no Jed Bartlet, and the fact that many in the Labour party are doing their best to distance themselves from their own candidate shows the whole strategy is a farce.

In a few months, the eyes of the world will be on London and other cities around the country as Britain hosts the Olympic & Paralympic Games. Boris Johnson may be gaffe-prone but unlike Mr Livingstone his gaffes are rarely offensive and certainly not malicious. We in this great and historic capital city cannot afford to have as our mayor a man who appears to set his stall deliberately to offend others.

For this reason, above all others, I urge you to back Boris Johnson as Mayor of London.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

Transport problems: Heathrow is the solution that dare not rear its head

Stuart Baldock 9.38am

The Government has put itself in a difficult spot with regards to solving the South East’s airport capacity problem - or more accurately the capacity issue at Heathrow.

Prior to the election, the Conservative party - it could be said foolishly - ruled out building a third runway at Heathrow. The Liberal Democrats - perhaps even more foolishly - have ruled out any capacity increase in the South East, including a new airport or additional runways at Stansted or Gatwick. Both policies are enshrined in the Coalition Agreement. Both Parties should reconsider.

Airports are as important to the modern UK economy as maritime ports were between the 18th and 20th centuries. At a time when growth in the economy is desperately needed, ignoring this fact is misguided at best, or reckless and incompetent at worst.

Success in this globalised world depends on one’s links to current and potential markets.

No matter how good teleconferencing has become, business is still done in person. Indeed, a report by Frontier Economics, an economic consultancy, found that UK businesses trade by as much as twenty times more with economies that have direct daily flights to the UK compared with those that have fewer or no services.

Lack of capacity is already estimated to cost the UK economy £1.2 billion each year. Heathrow is operating at nearly 100 per cent capacity.

The UK is far behind competitors when it comes to direct flights China. As shown below, the UK has significantly less flights to the main Chinese cities than Frankfurt and Paris. In the case of Guangzhou, the leading manufacturing region in China, there are no direct flights from Heathrow.

BEIJING:

Frankfurt – 1032 

Paris964

Heathrow – 698

SHANGHAI:

Frankfurt – 1110

Paris – 1323

Heathrow – 621

GUANGZHOU:

Frankfurt – 211

Paris – 290

Heathrow – 0

 

There have been a number of solutions put forward to rectify London’s airport capacity problem:

  • Build extra runways at Gatwick and/or Stansted. Both schemes would be relatively cheap – at around £2.5 billion. But Stanstead is unlikely to attract a significant number of airlines due to its distance from London. The Stansted Express train connection could be up-graded but at significant cost. Also linking it with HS2 would be prohibitively expensive due to its distance from the intended high-speed route. The main issue with expanding Gatwick is a planning agreement with West Sussex County Council prohibits the building of a second runway until after 2019. Not ideal when the Heathrow is already operating at capacity.

  • Build a ‘Thames Estuary Airport’Lord Foster’s Isle of Grain scheme, the so called ‘Boris Island’, or an airport at Cliffe in Kent. The main issue with these schemes is the cost. The cheapest proposal is Cliffe at £14 billion. The other schemes are estimated in excess of £20 billion just for the airports, while another £30 billion may be necessary for associated transport infrastructure. There are also environmental and safety issues to consider: birds and airliners are not compatible. A 2003 report found that the risk of losing an aircraft to bird strike around a ‘Thames Estuary’ was between one in 100 or 300 years – significantly more than any other UK airport.


Heathrow is the best option from a point of view of speed, cost, and environmental sustainability.

An additional runway could be built relatively quickly and could cost around £9 billion - a substantial investment, but not as much as other schemes.

The question has to be asked, is it really ‘sustainable’ to close one airport in a suburb (which is what it would take to make many airlines leave Heathrow) and move it to ecologically important marshland? No.

Heathrow can - as indeed is planned - be easily linked with HS2 so that the benefits of a world class airport can be shared with the rest of the UK, not just the South East. A third runway may not be the most staightforward option politically, but it is the best option.

Follow Stuart on Twitter @stuartbaldock