Green promises need more than words

WHEN I heard that the Conservatives were looking at ways of increasing taxes on air travel at the weekend, I thought the idea sounded interesting.The more I heard about their proposals, the more bizarre they sounded .

WHEN I heard that the Conservatives were looking at ways of increasing taxes on air travel at the weekend, I thought the idea sounded interesting.

The more I heard about their proposals, the more bizarre they sounded . . . and the more shambolic their policy-making process seemed.

I agree with those who say there should be more taxes on flying. It is perverse that the single form of emission that causes most damage to the planet - by injecting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at 30,000 feet - is the one form of fuel which does not attract excise duty.

However there are international laws governing what tax can charged on aviation fuel - and even if Britain was to turn its back on them it would merely mean that BA or Ryanair would fill up their planes elsewhere in the world.

What really impressed me about the Conservative proposals, however, was that they would be aimed at penalising “frequent flyers” rather than the mythical family who flies off to the Costa Brava once a year.

Apparently a two-week break to the sun is now a necessity for the ordinary family and must not be taxed too heavily.

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Why not? Does the carbon dioxide which comes out of a charter jet heading for Alicante not do as much damage as that which comes out of a BA jet from Heathrow to Berlin?

And if the Tories want to keep tax off flights to the sun for holidaymakers, are they proposing to give those of us who choose to holiday in this country at rebate on the fuel duty we pay to drive from Suffolk to Scotland or Wales?

I'm not holding my breath. This latest idea has all the hallmarks of a half-baked proposal from policy makers who have lost touch with the real world.

I can see them now, all the green young Tories “brainstorming” at an office in Westminster.

“I've got an idea,” says one. “Tax flights.”

“Brilliant, everyone will like that,” say his colleagues before the youngster in the corner squeaks up.

“What about families who fly on holiday, they won't like that!”

“Oh no,” they agree: “We can't upset them - they might vote for us.”

So they come up with a half-baked idea that sounds great in a soundbite but is frankly as deeply rooted in the real world as the idea that the poll tax would be popular.

If the Conservatives want to be taken seriously on their environmental policies, they have to accept that they will have to put forward proposals that some voters will not like.

It would be wonderful to think that everyone will immediately change their behaviour if the government tells them how to save the planet, but the fact is to get a real national impact there has to be legislation which will cost some people money.

And politicians who are not prepared to face up to that fact are probably not really prepared to take the action necessary.

AS the battle for control of Ipswich continues, it is significant that borough chiefs are accepting that there are some services they would continue to “buy in” from the council.

That is eminently sensible - and it has prompted some officials across the road at the county's headquarters of Endeavour House to claim what the borough is looking at is exactly what they are attempting to offer with the “pathfinder” proposal.

However that really is missing the point completely. It is absolutely right that the borough and county should co-operate - but the decision on the level of co-operation should come from the borough.

The problem that has become very clear over the last two years is that the opinions of Ipswich are totally ignored at Endeavour House.

Those leading the county now are all from rural parts of Suffolk and while I would not doubt their sincere belief that they are doing the best for Ipswich, how can they know what is best for the town if they don't actually live here?

One senior councillor regularly tells me what a lot the department he is responsible for does for the town and how he speaks to the borough regularly.

That's all very well - and I have to say there have not been any issues in his area of responsibility - but it is not really good enough to have all decisions about town matters taken by people who live in small villages.

Last year we had the ridiculous situation where people from elsewhere in the county tried to foist decisions on new fire stations on the town when everyone who lived in Ipswich knew their proposals were ridiculous.

And then there was a situation a few weeks ago when there was a seminar on traffic in the town and not a single councillor from Ipswich was invited.

That doesn't mean that the seminar didn't have anything to say on traffic in the town. It did mean that no one was seen to be representing the town's views on the subject.

And it is that situation which would be remedied if Ipswich was given control of its own affairs. If the town then decides to use county council services it will be cause the town wants to - not because councillors from Kersey, Brandon, Eye and Walsham le Willows think it would be best for us!

HOW do county council Tories relax? For many of them it was a trip to the New Wolsey Theatre last Friday night to see the show Thatcher The Musical.

I sincerely hope they enjoyed it more than I did! A musical on a controversial subject from the last 30 years could reasonably be expected to be satirical.

Sadly the show lacked real humour and the music was totally forgettable. In fact the most entertainment I had was counting the number of councillors in the place during the interval!

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