The coalition seems to be on a kamikaze course when it comes to transport. Actually, that’s a tad unfair to those suicidal Japanese pilots, who at least knew where they were going. Like so many of its predecessors, this Government has failed to recognise that transport affects everyone, almost every day. It is not a secondary issue, of interest only to nerds and trainspotters.
Big mistake — as the current mess over aviation policy shows.
Building a third runway at Heathrow was ruled out in the last Conservative manifesto for the narrow political reason of appeasing local voters. In its place came a plan for a high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham and ultimately, Manchester, as if the schemes and the problems they were trying to resolve were interchangeable. They are not. HS2 will free up precious little runway capacity at Heathrow, where domestic flights have been declining for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, the case for expanding Heathrow has been made ever louder and more clearly by business people frustrated by the lack of flights to Asia. Then, just as a growth-hungry government appeared to be warming to the need for more tarmac in the South East David Cameron went and appointed Justine Greening as Transport Secretary. He could scarcely have chosen someone with more baggage than the MP for the flightpath constituency of Putney, who is a fervent opponent of the third runway.
And then in bounced Boris Johnson with his idea for an airport in the Thames estuary, adding further to the muddle. Boris has declared himself firmly against Heathrow expansion and grandly claimed that it will not happen while he is Mayor. But he has no power in the matter. Such a decision would be taken by the Government after a public inquiry.
We had been promised a consultation paper on aviation policy this month, but once again politics has intervened. With the mayoral election looming it has been postponed until the summer.
Long-term transport policy is being created on the hoof. Irrespective of whether the third runway or HS2 should go ahead, ministers are stumbling from one half-baked idea (Heathwick anyone?) to another.
They totally fail to understand the importance of transport in people’s lives. Yes, health and education are vital, but these are services used intermittently. Transport, on the other hand, is used by almost everyone daily and yet it features as a political afterthought. The coalition has proved no exception to the rule that transport is the great neglected area of politics.