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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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.