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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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.