Is the airplane going the way of the 4x4?

Is it just me, or does it look like people are flying less and less?

I have just got back from a few days in Cornwall (via train of course) and I think I have spotted something strange happening.

No, not that half of England is disappearing under water. In fact I missed the bad weather completely, being in St Ives, which was practically the only place with sun this weekend. Instead what I have noticed is that everyone around me seems to have decided not to fly this year.

It started when I persuaded one of my sisters, with her family and our dad, to come for a week in the Lake District earlier this year. My sister immediately re-booked the same farmhouse for next year, and is now taking her summer holiday not in Spain as usual, but in Essex – on the island where we used to spend all our holidays as children.

Also, my friends from college are staying on the ground this summer, having been proper long-haul Larries in recent years (mainly on visits rather casual tourism, but still a lot of globe-trotting). They are currently in the south of France, and have gone by high-speed train.

Even my dad, who seemed to be turning into Alan Whicker as he worked less and became more retired, isn’t crossing the Atlantic this year and is also in Essex. And my mum, who is also retiring this year, has just bought a camper van; I can’t think of a clearer signal of intent not to get on a plane in the near future.

This is not anything like a scientific sample, but I would guess that my immediate circle is this year taking approximately a dozen fewer return flights than they would have done a few years ago. Could it be that flying is suddenly not cool?

There’s more evidence than mine to suggest that our collective love affair with queues, delays, uncomfortable seats and several hours spent in the air in a state of severe anxiety (actually that last one might just be me) is coming to an end.

The Independent last week printed a guide to the UK’s best beaches, which was peppered with words like ‘sensational’, ‘spectacular’ and ‘magnificent’. I loved this; our incredible geology here at home, exemplified by our coastline, is something I have been going on about for ages.

And despite all the obvious benefits of having a huge international airport on your doorstep, local opposition to more aviation is hotting up, too. Warwick Council has just rejected the expansion of Coventry airport, and Manchester airport’s plans to expand onto the green belt were this month squashed by planning inspectors after the airport appealed a decision of Macclesfield Borough Council.

Is this theory of mine just wishful thinking? I need more evidence to back up my observations and hypothesis, but, if I am right, we may be about to send the city break and cheap-flight-stag-night the way of the 4x4. If you have any other evidence of this trend (or counter-evidence) please let me know.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.