Right on nuclear, so wrong on airports

WHEN a Government starts losing its authority among its backbench MPs, it's time to check the lifeboats are in working order before heading towards the ice floes that are the voters at a General Election.

Graham Dines

WHEN a Government starts losing its authority among its backbench MPs, it's time to check the lifeboats are in working order before heading towards the ice floes that are the voters at a General Election.

The Government's majority was slashed to just 19 this week as Labour backbenchers joined the Opposition in blasting plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport. The joint Conservative-Liberal Democrat motion urging ministers to think again about the highly controversial development was rejected by 297 votes to 278.

The debate became a huge embarrassment for Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon who had to listen to a string of angry protests from his own benches. Several former ministers spoke out against the scheme and two ministerial aides resigned, leaving Mr Hoon to rely on the phalanx of loyal Scottish Labour MPs to win the vote.


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The Government is supporting the unsupportable and the unsustainable - there is simply no logic to a third runway at Heathrow, just as there is no justification for a second runway at Stansted in Essex.

London has five airports - Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, City and Luton. The Greater London area, roughly stretching from Windsor to Southend and from the Thames to the Stour and the Chilterns, is bursting at the seams.

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Forcing a greater number of travellers into this vortex is, quite frankly, stupid beyond belief. The UK economy will not benefit from turning Heathrow into a hub like Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Paris Charles de Gaulle - how many over-priced cups of coffee will transit passengers have to drink to pay for Heathrow's third runway and sixth terminal?

Britain's regions need development. One way to attract investors is to improve communications by allowing local airports need to reach their potential.

But by concentrating everything around the capital, the Government is effectively sticking two fingers up to Norwich, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Belfast and Cardiff, all of which have airports vital to regional economies.

Ministers have pledged to reduce Britain's carbon footprint - if Heathrow and Stansted expansion get the thumbs up, there can be no development of regional airports because the Government will have exceeded its target by lumbering the nation with a gigantic Heathrow.

On Wednesday, the Government's working majority of 63 was cut by more than two thirds over the issue. Labour former environment and transport minister Chris Mullin said the relationship between the Government and the aviation lobby was “far too cosy.”

Mr Mullin said: “I don't accept that cheap air travel is a basic human right which takes precedence over all other considerations. I do believe that quality of life for the millions who live under the flightpath, not to mention environmental considerations, are of greater importance.”

Leading Labour critic John McDonnell (MP for Hayes and Harlington, the area most affected by any expansion), who was suspended last week for five days after grabbing the mace in protest at the announcement to go ahead with the runway, accused the Government of allowing lobbyists to infiltrate the decision-making process.

Mr McDonnell said his constituents regarded the announcement on a third runway as “devastating”' and warned local people would not allow their communities to be bulldozed out of the way for it.

Another vocal critic, Martin Salter (Reading West), vice chairman of the Labour Party, said a third runway would cause “more gridlock, more pollution, more nitrogen dioxide, more asthma for young people.”

But Mr Hoon accused the Tories - who have pledged to scrap the plans if they win the next General Election - of “political opportunism of the lowest kind,” adding: “A third runway was “vital' in retaining Britain's economic competitiveness.

However, whereas I believe firmly that the Government is totally wrong on both Stansted and Heathrow, they are on the side of the angels when it comes to nuclear power stations. Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex should get new reactors - they're in the right place and are supported by their relevant local MPs John Gummer (Suffolk Coastal) and John Whittingdale (Maldon & Chelmsford East).

To maintain that renewable energy will meet Britain's future needs is to live in cloud cuckoo land. Nuclear is clean and will reduce the UK's dependence on overseas countries for power supplies.

The only alternative is to re-open the coal mines and while this might be politically popular in South Wales, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, won't the green lobby go ape.

Say a resounding “no” to Heathrow and Stansted, and a loud “yes” to Sizewell and Bradwell.

GORDON'S LATE SHOW - AND WHERE WAS BARBARA

GORDON Brown held a reception for the regional media in Downing Street on Wednesday. It started at 6pm, and the Prime Minister turned up at 7.50pm by which time most of the guests had given up and gone home. Would he have treated Fleet Street's finest with such disdain? Of course not.

Chancellor Alastair Darling and assorted Labour luminaries including Ed Balls, his wife Yvette Cooper, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, Margaret Beckett, and Ben Bradshaw all managed to make the drinks party, although they left to vote at the end of the Heathrow debate and were later replaced by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears.

As for Barbara Follett, the East of England minister, she was nowhere to be seen when most other regional ministers were present and mingled with newspaper guests whom the Government claims are vital to getting its message across.

Her excuse? She was in a meeting with Andy Burnham. Is that the same Andy Burnham who did make to No 10?

THE COLCHESTER CONNECTION

LORD Truscott, one of the peers at the centre of the “cash for lobbying” scandal in the House of Lords, served as a Labour councillor in Colchester for four years before heading off to Brussels for five years in the European Parliament

Peter Truscott was created a life peer in 2004 as Baron Truscott of St James's in the City of Westminster. He is an expert on Russia and the former Soviet Union, having written a number of books on politics on the post-glasnost era.

Lords Leader Baroness Royall this week pledged to toughen the upper chamber's anti-sleaze rules as she launched two parliamentary probes into claims Labour members were ready to change legislation in return for money.

Lord Truscott, Lord Moonie, Lord Taylor of Blackburn and Lord Snape are accused of entering into negotiations, involving fees of up to �120,000, with Sunday Times reporters posing as lobbyists for a foreign firm.

All four strenuously deny any wrongdoing but they face the possibility of a police probe after the Liberal Democrats filed a complaint with Scotland Yard.

It's all highly embarrassing for Gordon Brown. If the allegations are true, he will be under pressure to remove them from the Lords. Unlike Lord (Jeffrey) Archer who was jailed by a criminal court but not do accused of any wrongdoing against parliament, the four Labour peers could by subject to an Act of Attainder which would lead to their expulsion because they will have been deemed to have broken House of Lords rules.

COLCHESTER Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell has been appointed to the panel whose members chair meetings of committees at the House of Commons. He becomes only the second Liberal Democrat

who honed his chairing skills when Colchester's mayor.

“What a hash Theresa Villiers made of her opening speech. It was a disaster and allowed Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon to get away with murder.”

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