Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Seumas Milne warns that the Tories will win a landslide victory unless Labour transforms the argument over public debt into one over market failure:

Cheered on by the bulk of the media, Cameron and Osborne have executed a startling sleight of hand, persuading a large section of the public that the real crisis facing the country isn't the havoc wreaked on jobs and living standards by the breakdown of the free-market model -- but the increase in government debt incurred to pay for it.

In the Independent, Adrian Hamilton argues that the Lisbon Treaty will entrench the worst features of the European Union:

[I]f it is a concerted drive towards the future that you want in Europe, then it would be best if the Irish did reject the treaty a second time. That, at least, would force the heads of Europe to get their act together in response. Without it, we're back to the bad old ways of doing things -- the backroom deals over appointments, the watered-down policies and the aimless bureaucracy. After Barrosa we'll get the manoeuvring over the European presidency and the new foreign minister and we'll end up in just the same way, with the lowest common denominator candidate.

Over at Salon, Andy Kroll says that the lobbying industry has continued to flourish under Obama:

If the president's sprawling agenda has revealed anything, it's the extent to which private industries and their foot soldiers on K Street and Capitol Hill influence -- and in some cases dictate -- American policymaking. Right now, about 12,500 federally registered lobbyists make their trade in Washington, but believe it or not, they're only a small slice of the pie.

In the Times, Nick Clegg argues that just as Labour superseded the Liberal Party, so the Liberal Democrats will replace Labour as the dominant progressive party:

Labour deserved to win against the Liberals then. I believe Liberals deserve to win against Labour now. Because Labour's basic reflexes -- central state activism, hoarding power at the centre, top-down government -- are the wrong tools to meet the challenges of the modern world. We live in a society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place, no longer trapped by a culture of hierarchy.

In the Daily Telegraph, Jon Kay says that separating commercial banking from investment banking is a more urgent priority than greater regulation:

The better solution is structural -- to split the utility banking, the boring bit of the system that meets our daily needs in terms of paying bills and receiving salaries, from the casino. After all, when you think it through, utility banking is not boring at all. Technology is creating a revolution in financial services: it is easy to envisage a world in which all payments can be made with the wave of a card or the click of a mouse, and cash is only used for illegal transactions.



George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Boris Johnson isn't risking his political life over Heathrow

The anti-Heathrow campaigner was never a committed environmentalist. 

A government announcement on expanding London’s airports is expected today, and while opposition forces have been rallying against the expected outcome - a third runway at Heathrow - the decision could also be a divisive one for the ruling Conservative party. A long consultation period will allow these divisions to fester. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 Conservative MPs are against expansion at the Heathrow site. The Prime Minister’s own constituents are threatening legal action, and the former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to step down as MP for Richmond rather than let the airport develop.

But what of Boris Johnson? The politician long synonymous with Heathrow opposition - including a threat to lie down “in front of those bulldozers” - is expected to call the decision a mistake. But for a man unafraid to dangle from a zipwire, he has become unusually reticent on the subject.

The reticence has partly been imposed upon him. In a letter to her cabinet ministers, Theresa May has granted them freedom from the usual rules of collective responsibility (under which cabinet ministers are required to support government positions). But she has also requested that they refrain from speaking out in the Commons, from “actively” campaigning against her position, and from calling “into question the decision making process itself”.  

Johnson is not about to start cheering for Heathrow. But unlike Goldsmith, he is no committed environmentalist - and he's certainly a committed politician.  

Boris’s objections to the expansion at Heathrow have all too often only extended as far as the lives of his London constituents. These local impacts are not to be belittled – in his role of mayor of London, he rightly pointed to the extreme health risks of increased noise and air pollution. And his charisma and profile have also boosted community campaigns around these issues. 

But when it comes to reducing emissions, Johnson is complacent. He may have come a long way since a 2013 Telegraph article in which he questioned whether global warming was real. Yet his plan to build an alternative “hub” airport in the Thames Estuary would have left the question of cutting UK aviation emissions worryingly un-resolved. This lack of curiosity is alarming considering his current job as foreign secretary. 

And there are reasons to be concerned. According to Cait Hewitt at the Aviation Environment Federation, the UK fails to meet its targets for CO2 reduction. And the recent UN deal on aviation emission mitigation doesn’t even meet the commitments of the UK’s own Climate Change Act, let alone the more stringent demands of the Paris Agreement. “Deciding that we’re going to do something that we know is going to make a problem worse, before we’ve got an answer, is the wrong move”, said Hewitt.

There is a local environmental argument too. Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson from the activist group “Rising Up”, says the pollution could affect Londoners' health: "With 70 per cent of flights taken just by 15 per cent of the UK's population... this is just not acceptable in a civilised democracy.”

The way Johnson tells it, his reason for staying in government is a pragmatic one. “I think I'd be better off staying in parliament to fight the case, frankly," he told LBC Radio in 2015. And he's right that, whatever the government’s position, the new “national policy statement” to authorise the project will likely face a year-long public consultation before a parliamentary vote in late 2017 or early 2018. Even then the application will still face a lengthy planning policy stage and possible judicial review. 

But if the foreign secretary does fight this quietly, in the back rooms of power, it is not just a loss to his constituents. It means the wider inconsistencies of his position can be brushed aside - rather than exposed and explored, and safely brought down to ground. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.