A spot of Reading then Heathrow

The Green London mayoral candidate reports from Reading and her party's conference plus fighting air

Conference in Reading is remarkably quiet compared with recent Green Party get-togethers, or perhaps it just seems that way after leaving behind the excitement of the London election. The campaign is snowballing now, and the first full hustings took place on Thursday, hosted by the Green Alliance. You can watch the videos and judge for yourself how we all did on Friction.tv.

Away in Reading, we've been enjoying the international flavour of the conference. The 'Global Voices' panel on Friday afternoon saw the Venezuelan Ambassador to the UK, Samuel Moncada discuss global human and environmental rights with Dr Abdullah Abu Hilal from the Palestinian West Bank town of Abu Dis, a Jerusalem suburb on its way to being officially twinned with my home town of Camden. Also on the panel, talking about the ongoing problems with Shell in the Ogoni region of Nigeria, was human rights lawyer Patrick Okonmah.

Meanwhile, back in London, two new reports have been published that finally demolished the government's paper-thin economic case for expansion at Heathrow. Friends of the Earth have released their paper, “Heathrow expansion – its true costs”. This shows the massive faults in how the consultation documents value the impacts of expansion. The report shows that, even if you accept the government’s ethically dubious framework that reduces all the impacts of a new runway to amounts of money, the numbers still don’t add up.

The figure used to calculate the cost of climate change damage isn't the Stern Report’s 'business as usual' figure of £53 per tonne of carbon dioxide, but just £19 - a figure that assumes climate change itself will be minimised thanks to strong policies from the government. FoE calls this 'circular reasoning of the worst kind'. Assuming that expanding an airport does count as 'business as usual', correcting this error almost triples the climate costs from £4.8 billion to more than £14 billion, and wipes out the government's 'net benefit' at a stroke.

The FoE report also finds flaws in calculations of the future cost of flights. In particular, the most ridiculous assumption in the whole consultation – that the price of oil “falls from $64 per barrel in 2006 to $53 per barrel in 2030”. I read this and (after I picked myself up off the floor) went to check the oil price today - it was $95.

The second report, published by consultants CE Delft who were commissioned by campaigners HACAN to look more closely at the figures, is also damning of the government’s economic analysis. They found that gains to business and employment were being similarly inflated by not taking into account the fact that money, if not spent on via the expanded airport, would be spent elsewhere in the local economy.

These studies, exposing the economic con-trick BAA and the government are trying to pull, are important since these supposed benefits are their last positive argument, set against a vast pile of negative consequences of expansion. The population of London are virtually up in arms about the extra noise and air pollution that would result from more flights, and the climate change argument is completely clear – we can’t fight climate change and build more airports, full-stop.

We now have just a few more days until the close of the consultation. Like most such consultations, the questions have been put together in such a way that it’s very difficult to answer them and actually get your opinions across. The campaigners suggest answering all the questions with a simple ‘No’ and I'm urging everyone to do the same before 27th February. See the Stop Heathrow Expansion website for more on what you can do before then, including coming to the big rally in Westminster on 25th February.

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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Leader: Labour and the Brexit debacle

The party appears to favour having its cake and eating it – yet the dilemma is not insuperable.

In the year since a narrow majority of people voted to leave the European Union, the Brexit project has not aged well. Theresa May’s appeal to the electorate to “strengthen” her hand in negotiations was humiliatingly rejected in the general election. Having repeatedly warned of a “coalition of chaos” encompassing ­Labour and the Scottish National Party, the Prime Minister has been forced to strike a panicked parliamentary deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. European leaders have been left bewildered by events in the United Kingdom.

The Brexiteers, who won the referendum on a fraudulent prospectus, have struggled to cope with the burden of responsibility. In the manner of Dr Pangloss, they maintain that the UK will flourish outside the EU and that those who suggest otherwise are too pessimistic, or even unpatriotic. Yet wishful thinking is not a strategy. Though the immediate recession forecast by the Treasury has been avoided, the cost of Brexit is already being borne in squeezed living standards (owing to the pound’s depreciation) and delayed investment decisions.

At the same time, far from disintegrating as the most ardent Leavers predicted, the EU is recovering, with a revival of the Franco-German axis under Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Donald Trump’s antics have dispelled the illusion that “the Anglosphere” can function as an alternative to the bloc. Britain has embarked on the great task of withdrawal at a time of profound national and global instability.

For all this, the Brexiteers retain an indisputable mandate. What the Brexiteers have no mandate for is their model of withdrawal. And there is a nascent majority in the House of Commons for a “soft” exit. Roughly two-thirds of voters remain supportive of Brexit but they have no desire to harm the economy in the process. A recent YouGov survey found that 58 per cent believe Britain should trade freely with the EU, even at the cost of continued free movement into Britain.

In these circumstances, Labour has profited from ambiguity. Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to uphold the referendum result and to end free movement won the respect of Leavers in the election. His pro-migration rhetoric and promise of a “jobs-first” Brexit impressed Remainers, who were in the mood to give the Tories a bloody nose. Although Labour fell 64 seats short of a majority, it partly spanned a divide that had been considered unbridgeable.

Mr Corbyn’s desire to avoid the cross-party Brexit commission proposed by some commentators and MPs is understandable. As Ed Smith observes on page 22, Brexit is a metaphorical “plague” that contaminates all those who touch it, claiming one Conservative prime minister and fatally infecting another. The Tories, who inflicted an unnecessary EU referendum on the UK, must not redistribute the blame.

As the Brexit negotiations progress, however, Labour cannot maintain its opacity. While vowing to retain “the benefits of the single market and the customs union”, it has also pledged to “end” freedom of movement. Like the risible ­Boris Johnson, Labour appears to favour having its cake and eating it. Yet the dilemma is not insuperable.

The logical extension of the party’s vow to give the economy priority over immigration control is to support continued single-market membership. This is the most practical and reliable means of ensuring that Britain’s dominant services sector retains the access it requires. Membership of the customs union would ensure the same for manufacturers. Economic retreat from the EU, which accounts for 44 per cent of all UK exports, would unavoidably reduce growth and living standards.

Such an arrangement need not entail continued free movement, however. Under existing EU rules (not applied by the UK), immigrants resident for longer than three months must prove that they are working (employed or self-employed) or a registered student, or have “sufficient resources” to support themselves and not be “a burden on the benefits system”.

It falls to Labour, as a reinvigorated and increasingly popular opposition, to chart an alternative to the ideological Brexiteers on the Tory benches as well as in the virulent right-wing press. Is Mr Corbyn a covert Brexiteer? It does not really matter. What matters is that he leads a party of committed Europeans who have no wish to see Britain humiliated, its influence in the world reduced, and its economy damaged by the folly of the Brexit debacle. 

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit plague

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