There is much to commend the energy policy issued by the government today with its emphasis on renewable energy and quite ambitious targets. But Ed Milliband has queered his patch with his support for aviation.
He has repeated the New Labour mantra that poorer passengers should not be priced out of being able to take planes. But this flies in the face of both rationality and the government’s attitude to other modes. In particular, the government’s policy is to drive up regulated rail fares by one per cent above the rate of inflation and, indeed, to allow the private rail companies freedom to put up the other ticket prices by as much as they want.
While rail may not be as environmentally sustainable as its supporters would like, its carbon per passenger mile ratio is certainly better in most cases than for any other mode and yet it is not accorded the same favourable status. I have never understood this policy of protecting aviation from the normal market forces and, indeed, using tax to deter further use since its externalities – damage caused to the environment – are so high.
After all, ordinary people are priced out of buying, say, Rolex watches, so why should flying be an inalienable right. In any case, people flying, even on the cheap airlines, are, on average, high earners and therefore favouring aviation is a regressive measure. Rail passengers, too, tend to be well off but at least the railways are a public service which provide a vital nationwide link that can be used by anyone.
The truth of the matter is that the Labour politicians are, as Mrs T used to say, frit – scared of a popular revolt against high taxation on aviation. But it is the politicians’ job sometimes to try to shift public opinion rather than merely kowtowing to it.