Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 19 January 2009

My anger at Department for Transport Spin on Heathrow

This story in the Independent on Saturday contains an example of the sort of thing that makes my blood boil.

Apparently there was a "consultation" about the third runway at Heathrow and 70,000 responses were sent back to the DfT. There was no question on it about whether the respondents actually wanted the runway, however of the almost 70,000 responses, 25,337 (36.1%) voluntarily noted that they opposed expansion. 8,128 (11.6%) volunteered that they supported it.

The DfT issued the following statement regarding this:

"The Heathrow consultation did not ask people whether they were in favour of a third runway or not. While more were opposed than in favour, the majority of people expressed no view either way on expansion."

There are a number of things that I think are worth looking at about this:

1) Why the hell in a so called consultation about a third runway at Heathrow was the question "Are you in favour of a third runway at Heathrow" not asked?

2) The DfT are now using the fact that the question was not asked to obfuscate the results of the "consultation". I am convinced (and I am sure they are too) that if the remaining 36,000 or so respondents who had not expressed a preference were asked, a majority would also have said no. It is a statistical certainty.

3) In the General Election of 2005, Labour got 35.3% of the votes cast. That was enough to elect them with a decent sized majority in the House of Commons for the next 5 years. Yet when, despite the DfT's best attempts to queer the pitch, 36% of respondents state that they do not want a third runway, that is not enough and the clear will is ignored.

4) The figures could be looked at another way too. Of those who expressed a preference, 76% stated they did not want a runway and only 24% said they did. That is a majority of over 3/4.

When this government is finally consigned to the grave of political history it will be buried under a pile of all the thousands of times it has used pathetic tricks like this to obscure, distort and mislead. We will not easily forget or forgive the way they have misused their supposed "skills" in this sort of area.

*Edited to tone it down a bit. I was pretty angry when I posted it!
** Edited agin to correct the figures in 4).


Anonymous said...

This spin has really gone too far, Spin is destroying democracy

Mark Thompson said...

Indeed Dazman.

Thinking a bit more about it, the worst thing is that apart from that article in the Independent (on page 22) I have not really seen any other coverage about this.

We have all become so inured to this sort of behaviour from government that it is just accepted as normal.

I am absolutely sick of it.

Anonymous said...

As a respondent to the DfT consultation, I went looking for a breakdown of the numbers for the 70,000 responses, because the letter we received last week from Geoff Hoon was ambiguous (to say the least).

If we had a PR company on our side, it would be running catfood-like ads stating:

"More than 3 out of 4 respondents who stated a preference expressed opposition to Heathrow expansion."

However, apart from several valiant groups opposed to Heathrow expansion, in terms of major publicity we are on our own. We have to rely on coverage in London and national newspapers to keep the topic alive in the public sphere to combat the never-ending spin that is served up by the government, especially DfT, as well as BAA, BA and other well-funded business lobbies.

Thank you for drawing attention to the spin.

More on this in my post.

Mark Thompson said...

Thanks Inel for your comments.

I have been frustrated for years at these sort of tricks that the government pulls.

The post office consultations were exactly the same. An attempt to apply a think coating of apparently democratic accountability to a process that has already been determined.

In the case of Heathrow it is an absolutely critical decision and it is disgusting that a Labour government can push it through like this.

I would actually like an independent inquiry into the way that these "consultation" exercises are run, how much they cost and how often they have changed a government's decision. Because if they are usually ignored then they should not be allowed to get away with claiming that they have consulted (which inplies support) when making these decisions.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is an awful lot of wasted time and effort on paperwork and talk that achieves nothing in this country. No wonder people in Britain are so cynical.

Well, there is still hope!

A debate and vote on Heathrow expansion will take place in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 28 January 2009. Greenpeace are enabling people to write a letter of support which will be sent to the 57 potential Labour rebel MPs.