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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Heathrow truths

Politically active people often assume that everybody else knows the things that politically active people know, but this can be a mistaken assumption.

For example, does everyone know that there is a swathe of marginal seats in west and south-west London in which opposition to a third runway at Heathrow is a huge vote-winner, as the people who live there are very concerned about the noise and other disruption that they associate with any expansion of the airport? That is one reason why Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were so clear in opposing the then Labour Government's plans for a third runway at the last General Election.

One of the seats in which this is a big issue is Putney, which the Conservative Justine Greening gained from Labour as recently as 2005. Now she is Transport Secretary, opposing a third runway - I do not see how she could face her Putney constituents if she did otherwise. It would be like George Galloway now coming out in favour of the Iraq War.

Also, with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Aviation in the news for producing a report that calls for Heathrow's capacity to expand, it would be foolish to assume that everyone knows what an APPG actually is.

APPGs often arise when an industry's lobbyists think that it would be useful for their industry to have one. The lobbyists will then talk to MPs and peers about the need for such a group, which the MPs and peers will then set up, with the lobbyists "providing the secretariat".

"Providing the secretariat" means that all the office work is done by the lobbyists, while the MPs and peers chair the meetings and set the agenda - with the lobbyists suggesting what major policy issues the APPG might discuss.

This means that the APPG might publish reports on policy areas that the lobbyists and their clients are most interested in, thus generating useful news coverage of the issues concerned (with those lobbyists who "provide the secretariat" sometimes doing much of the administrative legwork when it comes to getting the report ready for publication).

This is all perfectly above board and open, and the reports themselves will fairly reflect the views of the Parliamentarians in whose names they are issued - and APPGs are often created at the behest of voluntary sector bodies, and not just corporate interests. There are APPGs on Human Trafficking, Antisemitism and Poverty; I once worked for a trade association that provided the secretariat to an APPG for one of the most important sectors of the UK economy. APPGs are a sensible way of enabling Parliamentarians to discuss and report on a range of issues of genuine public concern.

If one wishes to be an informed reader of news coverage of the Aviation APPG's report on airport capacity, then one might find it useful to know (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/aviation.htm) that MHP Communications (http://www.mhpc.com/) provides this APPG's secretariat. Pro-Heathrow campaigners will have known that Tim Yeo's article on Heathrow (published on the very eve of the APPG report) was in the offing; such campaigners (and lobbyists) wanted this to be this week's big political news story, and they have succeeded.

Nothing wrong with that, I might add. That is politics in a democracy and it's all perfectly above board and legitimate.







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