Richard's blog

Where is Modern Movement?


All the Spiked-baiting earlier today got me thinking (and not about revisionist interpretations of Marx): where has their front group, Modern Movement, disappeared to? Earlier this year anti-expansion campaigners were terrified at the prospect of the Living Marxism cult's latest offering: a bunch of ex-RCP types demanding we all keep flying lest it stop progress.

For those of you who didn't get the memo, Modern Movement, Spiked and the Institute of Ideas are all part of the amorphous Living Marxism network. LM, which itself spun out of the Revolutionary Communist Party, is built around the cult of Frank Furedi, a radically revisionist Marxist humanist who thinks that progress = unalloyed goodness and that anything which stops progress (like toning down the number of flights we take) is part of a Culture of Fear designed to keep us all in check.

Things which go against progress include: telling people about Swine flu, the environment, debating the merits of GM food, Plane Stupid and labour rights (except when they don't - LM/RCP types are nothing if not fluid in their thinking). Brendan O'Neill, editor of Spiked, really really dislikes us, and goes out of his way to invent new angles on the same, tired old story: greens are anti-progress and anti-fun (and a bit posh). It's like the only thing Furedi and his clan learnt from Marxism was to take tractor production as the sole measure of happiness.

For a while I thought that MM might have flown to Ireland to support the Thomas Cook workers, given that we've been down at Vestas and the Spiked/MM/LM/RCP lot seem to think that supporting green jobs meant opposing workers in high-carbon industries. This idea of a just transition is why the Workers' Climate Action movement has been helping everyone suffering from climate and labour issues, including the workers at the Visteon car plant and Lindsey oil refinery (workers who should, by MM's analysis, be our uber enermy, but of course, aren't) while MM have contributed sod all except some pithy text on an online magazine no one reads.

Then I stumbled upon a lead, which might indicate where Modern Movement have gone. The above video, posted on Myspace, suggests that Suzy Dean and others have reformed as an American thrash-rock band - a move I can only describe as progress. I can’t help but feel I’d feel more warmly towards them if they’d been doing this outside parliament. After all, who can forget Voltaire's famous saying: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will die to defend your right to say it loudly and angrily through the medium of thrash-rock. Dude."

P.S.: Joy of joys, I've just been handed a delightful video by another LM/RCP/IoI front, Worldbytes. Worried about the rainforests being destroyed? Chill out man, it's progress, says a very stoned Jay Kaplinsky.

Spiked: free marketeers for labour rights!

"Dad, do I have to keep holding this sign? I'm cold, and Byker Grove is on soon." "Shut up and keep protesting or I'll confiscate your Beano and leave you only the Trotskyite classic Terrorism and the State to read!"

So we got an email from Spiked Online - formerly Living Marxism, formerly the Revolutionary Communist Party - this morning, which suggested that we might like to pop over to their website and have a read of the latest critique of a post-Marxist, post-structuralist, reimagining of dialectical materialism, entitled Defend green jobs! Smash ungreen jobs! Brendan O'Neill, revolutionary communist turned revolutionary capitalist, has taken issue with our support for Vestas and our lack of support for the occupation in Ireland.

What occupation, you may ask? Well, while the Vestas occupation was underway, a similar one was taking place against the sacking of 28 workers at travel agents Thomas Cook. And yesterday the notoriously violent La Guardia smashed their way in, dragged them all out and arrested them, causing one woman to go into premature labour.

It's great that O'Neill has stopped sucking up to big business just long enough to give a toss about the rights of labour, but he's seeing conspiracy where there is none (as usual). Funnily enough, we were talking about the Thomas Cook occupation last night - the first I'd heard of it - and thinking about what we could do, because it's always been clear that this sort of thing - layoffs of workers in the fossil fuels or high-carbon transport sectors - was going to be the inevitable result of decarbonisation.

Tackling greenhouse gas emissions isn't a middle class obsession, as much as O'Neill would like it to be. It's an issue of rights and justice for the poorest in society. The people causing it have names and addresses. Sadly they are also the most likely to profit from the disaster, just like those "cynical companies and corporations that frequently dress up downsizing and cost-cutting as an environmentalist measure". Those worst hit - the displaced in Bangladesh forced out by rising sea levels; the millions of Africans left starving by drought; people living in unisurable homes in the UK fighting back another round of floods - are also those least responsible.

The Thomas Cook layoffs are the first of many, and we have to be ready. People earning minimum wage working in a travel agents are not responsible for climate change; nor are the workers at Kingsnorth, Heathrow or anywhere else. But that doesn't mean we should all keep flying; instead, we need a just transition to help workers unfortunate enough to be working in high-carbon industries find new, better jobs in greener sectors. Because if we don't they, and their children, will be the ones paying for climate change, unlike O'Neill and his post-communist corporatist cronies at Spiked.

Your chance to be an Airport Idol!


Fresh from the awesome Colin Matthews: one night only comedy gig (now touring the Edinburgh Festival), Plane Stupid Events Ltd. is proud to present our latest collaboration with BAA, which gives thousands the chance to project manage their own imaginary runway. It's the hottest reality TV programme of the summer!

Airport Idol: any runway will do! pits members of the public against each other to find out who's got what it takes to be the Big Kahuna, and who's just another piece of lost luggage. Competitors will be tested on their knowledge of "strict environmental limits" and consultation rigging, before battling it out for the covetted Airport Idol jackpot: up to £100,000 a year to design a runway that will never happen.

Sign up for Airport Idol: any runway will do!

We did ask BAA why they advertised their new jobs in an issue of the Guardian whose front page splashed with the news that the runway was all but cancelled, but they were too incadescent with rage to answer. Instead they agreed to forgo the usual job application malarkey and launch a new reality TV show to find their newest Head of R3 consultation and Head of Surface Access Strategy.

Places are limited, so act fast! Don't worry, you'll be able to download the theme music on iTunes later this week.

High speed rail to wipe out domestic flights


Lord Adonis has unveiled a plan which has O'Leary and others apoplectic: he wants to wipe out the market for domestic flights in the UK by expanding the high speed rail network. While the Government has often hinted that High Speed 2 (the link between London, Heathrow and the north) would steal some market share, they're only now admitting that fast trains = no planes - domestically, if not internationally.

Across Europe, intercity flights have been decimated by the growth in high speed rail. In December 2007 the Spanish Government opened new lines connecting Madrid to Valladolid and to Málaga. Aberlado Carrillo, the director general of the state rail operator Renfe's high-speed service, described the success of these two lines as "unprecedented and well ahead of what we expected. Traffic has doubled on the Málaga line, and grown by 75% on the Valladolid line."

But don't hold your breath too tightly. Adonis and others were keen to explain that we'd still have to expand all the airports, to cater for predicted growth in demand (which is generated by the expansion, but don't let that spoil anything). I do wish the Government would wake up to the fact that expansion isn't happening and, while we're at it, stop pretending it's ok for the Environment Secretary to support regional airport expansion.

Michael O'Leary, the industry's rent-a-clown, was wheeled out to perform tricks. He's unhappy because he won't make any money if we're not all sitting on his horrid little planes. He doesn't believe in climate change, so finds the Transport Secretary justifying modal shift on eco-grounds a tad irritating. Sorry Michael, now you know how we feel everytime your smug face pops up on the telly crying about Greedy Gordon's Tax on Fun or whatever it is you complain about. No more Ryanair or Flybe is a good thing.

Heathrow and Stansted expansion even less likely as BAA posts record losses

Have you been wondering why BAA has gone quiet on its plans to expand Heathrow and Stansted? Just a few months ago it was keen to stress that both airports would have new runways as soon as the tarmac could be poured, but their latest financial reports shows that BAA is so broke that it is reusing teabags* in the staff canteen.

So far this year BAA has lost over half a billion pounds from the three London airports, with passengers down by 4 million. The biggest decline was at Stansted, which lost 14% of passengers. Domestic flights fell 10% across the airports, with flights to the EU down 8% and international flights down 6%. So what need for the new runway - or for the increase in passenger numbers they twisted arms for last year?

In other BAA news, Gatwick still hasn't sold. BAA wants £1.5 billion, down from £2 billion last year, and has challenged the Competition Commission's demand that it sell Stansted, Gatwick and either Edinburgh or Glasgow within two years. There's some complicated leveraging thing going on with bonds and stuff, but basically it's overvalued the airport and can't sell it.

No cash means no expansion, whatever spin BAA chooses to put on it: bulldozing villages doesn't come cheap, especially when we're digging in to resist. It's perhaps a little too early to start celebrating, but let's face it: we've won**, even if the other side hasn't conceded defeat just yet.

* I am reliabily informed that reusing teabags is a perfectly sensible thing to do. However the image of BAA's staff fighting over a second-hand Tetley while outside the offices hordes of angry residents and anti-expansion campaigners wave placards and chant slogans is so heartening that I thought I'd share it with you.

** Given that I've started doing these little notes, I may as well continue: there plenty of regional airport battles to fight and win, but passengers and profits are down across the sector. Perhaps that iconic symbol of the fight against climate change won't be in Sipson and Harmonsworth, but at Newquay, Doncaster or Birmingham airports instead...

Off-topic: cops cancel Big Green Gathering. Bastards


I know this is off topic, so feel free to skip, but I'm really pissed off. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of spending the summer touring various festivals, promoting sustainable transport. We did Glastonbury in the pouring rain, which was hard work, but we also did the Big Green Gathering, a genuinely awesome little festival tucked away in deepest Cider country.

The local bobbies have always had it in for the festival: it didn't take place last year because of ridiculous security requirements and made a loss the year before after shelling out to turn the festival site into Fort Knox. This year they went one better and sought an injunction against the landowners, which would have been heard today. Bear in mind that the event starts on Wednesday, and that the cops have known about the legal threat for at least three weeks, and you start to get an idea of what's going on.

Let's make one thing clear: bastards at the council are claiming it was cancelled for safety reasons. Bollocks. The security company, many of whom are ex-coppers with a 'special relationship' with the fuzz, were up to something, demanding loads of cash up front from the cash-strapped festival organisers and then calling the cops to say that no one would be keeping the hippies in line even though their extravagant cheque was in the post.

Anyway, this great little festival won't take place this year, which financially screws over a bunch of nice people who've spent all their meager pennies on beer for the Last Chance Saloon as well as some nice random hippy families who had it booked as their one summer holiday. I hope the tossers at Mendip Council are happy with themselves, but they're already on holiday in Malaga anyway. Grrrrr.

If you are as agrieved as I, why not email Suzanne McCutcheon, arch-partypooper at Mendip Council, to suggest that we use her back garden for a knees-up instead?

Follow Vestas occupation on Twitter


The Vestas occupation continues apace - now into its fourth day. The company and cops have cut off their food and internet, but you can follow them on Twitter.

Check out for updates from the front line.

Don't believe airline whinging over air passenger duty


Has any industry claimed to care more for their customers than the airlines? The past few weeks have seen pundits from any company with the slightest interest in aviation fronting up at the BBC's studios to defend hard working families from proposed rises in air passenger duty. Those rises are: a staggering £1 extra for short haul, £5 extra to fly a little further, £10 extra on a flight to Thailand or Brazil and a whopping... £15 on a flight to Singapore.

Now far be it from me to say that those rises hardly break the bank, or to accuse the airlines from being self-interested: I'm sure that their efforts to pay even less tax than they already do are motivated purely by altruism. After all, it's not like this is an industry which invented charges for bringing bags with you on holiday, or for paying with a credit card, or for not paying with a credit card, or for the fuel used in the plane, or to sit by the window... I could go on, but I'm sure you get my point.

The industry claims it already covers the cost of its environmental impact, so the 'hard working family holiday tax' doesn't need to go up anymore. This is one of the problems with monetising things like climate change: while you can work out the cost of a something tangible, asigning a figure to the range of outcomes from a human-induced temperature rise (which may or may not happen, depending on whether we stop climate change) is almost impossible.

This is all a bit complex. Firstly the cost of climate change is directly related to whether we manage to keep our emissions in check. If we do, then the cost of a tonne of carbon is quite low; if we fail then the cost is exorbitant. That's the problem: if carbon is cheap we'll keep emitting it but if it's expensive then we'll cut down, so whatever outcome we think will happen prices carbon emissions so that we actually get the opposite effect. Instead of assuming we'll stop climate change we should assume that we won't and price emissions accordingly; this would make the cost of CO2 high enough that we'd have an incentive to change our behaviour and thus avert disaster.

It's not like air passenger duty is spent tackling the problem; like most taxes it disappears into the black morass of Government spending. No matter what it says, the industry is not paying for the damage it causes: it's not like Michael O'Leary will turn up in Gloucester to pay for the flood damage, or Willie Walsh will help Africa cope with drought caused by second home owners topping up their tans too frequently.

Luckily this whole economic credit crunch means that taxes on flights will keep rising so we can bail out more and more bankers, so the industry won't get its way no matter how many minor celebs it wheels out in support. On second thoughts, I'm not so sure that's a good thing. God, the intricacies of fiscal policy are more complicated than I first though...