A New Definition of Quality of Life

The UK Conservative Party has a “Quality of Life” policy group, headed by former Environment Secretary John Selwyn Gummer (whose most distinguished political moment involved a failed attempt at forcing a cheeseburger into his daughter’s mouth) and hyper-rich environmentalist Zacharaias “Zac” Goldsmith. From the initial reports of the group’s conclusions, it seems that it wants to improve quality of life by making it harder to get anywhere. The Daily Mail reports that the group will recommend:

–A moratorium on all airport expansion, including Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted;

– The imposition of VAT on fuel for domestic flights;

– A “single flight tax” to shift tax burden from passengers to airlines;

– Domestic flight slots to be handed to long-haul trips instead.

These are all rather confused. Constraining the development of major international airports will probably simply transfer the airports’ trade to continental hubs like the Dutch airport of Schipol. People will then take flights back to London if they wish to go there, so potentially increasing the emissions involved in the trip. On the other hand, commercial travelers may prefer to do business in a city with better transport links like Paris or Hamburg. London’s economy as a whole will suffer. As for the new taxes, airlines will simply pass the costs on to the customer. It is do-it-yourself economics to suggest that the tax burden can be placed on the airline itself rather than the passenger. Finally, giving domestic flight slots to international flights will either cause passengers to take alternative trips (eg London to Schipol, Schipol to Newcastle rather than just London to Newcastle) or put yet more stress on an already straining rail infrastructure. In addition, reducing the attractiveness of short-haul flights will cause serious problems for regional airports. It is unlikely to increase the Conservative Party’s standing in the regions and may be regarded as yet another example of Londonocentric thinking by the Tories.

There are some good points in the report – the breaking up of BAA’s monopoly over the London airports should allow for real competition between them to the benefit of the passenger. A pity, then, that the Conservatives then want to constrain the ability of the new airport owners to deliver anything the passenger might actually want.