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Why does London have more airports than any other city, anyway?

London has more airports than any other major city - which is a bit odd, really. This video helpfully explains why.

When you think about it, London does seem to have a lot more airports than it should. In descending order in terms of number of passengers per year, there's Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, City and Southend, which is ridiculous, as YouTube vlogger and musician Jay Foreman explains in episode three of his Unfinished London series.

Believe me when I say it's a bit exciting (if you're a sad infrastructure geek like me) that Foreman's actually got around to making a third episode - it's been three years since episode two, and the first one came out in 2009. They're witty walkthroughs of the ways London's stop-start, never-finishes-what-it-starts approach to urban planning has made the city what it is today. Episode one deals with the Northern Heights plan, which would have connected the stub of the Northern line with Mill Hill East on it with Edgware, and likely have brought with it thousands of new homes in what is now, still, a semi-rural area; episode two is about the Ringways, which would have seen London surrounded by four ring roads, of which the M25 is the main survivor (and which was abandoned halfway through, thus why the "south circular" isn't).

Episode three, though, is about the capital's airports, which are mostly built on what were aerodromes built in the inter-war period by wealthy plane nuts indulging their hobby, who in turn saw a money-making opportunity in accepting passengers. Yet the first airport in the city, Croydon Airport, couldn't survive after the Second World War as its runways weren't long enough for new, larger planes, and neither could most of the other aerodromes or airports, which found themselves surrounded by urban sprawl. We have Heathrow where it is because it was near the edge of the city, with enough room to be the city's main airport - and Gatwick is even further out because it was the best candidate of the nearby RAF airfields to be London's backup. And, as they in turn became constrained by planning issues, Stansted (an RAF airfield) and Luton (a small regional airport meant to serve the Home Counties) were commandeered to serve ever-growing London. City was part of Canary Wharf's regeneration, and Southend is the most-recent, becoming London Southend as part of a rebranding exercise. That brings us to six.

This is only civilian airports doing international flights, though, because "airport" is a fuzzy definition. There are nearly 20 further airfields and aerodromes within Greater London and just outside it, as well as RAF Northolt - and then there's the fact that some airports that aren't meant to serve London are, nevertheless, as close as some of those that are (like Lydd Airport in Kent), while some that say they're meant to serve London (looking at you, "London" Oxford Airport) probably don't in practice. If you include all these extra types of airport then, well, it's probably impossible to judge who has the most - a city like Los Angeles, or Moscow, will easily match London on it.

Worth noting, too, that Foreman points out that a Thames Estuary airport was first proposed back in the 1970s, before London did what it's always done - take an existing airfield instead, and expand it. History has a funny way of repeating itself.

Here's hoping episode three, part two doesn't take another three years to arrive.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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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.