10 AUGUST 2009

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Article from BTNews 10 AUGUST 2009

COMMENT: Lord of the trains

These days we don’t have a Minster for Aviation, just Lord Adonis, Baron Adonis of Camden Town, of clearly high intellect but little knowledge of the airline industry and what it means to Britain.

In a previous life Andrew Adonis was an Oxford Don and sometime journalist with both the Financial Times and The Observer.  Adonis served time in Tony Blair’s Policy Unit and is known to be a bit of a railway buff.  He has been described as a mini Mandelson, all charm but yet haughty.  And just like Mandelson he sits in the protected world of the House of Lords.

Since his appointment Adonis has been very visible, clearly having leant the value of being seen around during his stint in Downing Street. 

The airline industry has very quickly forgotten about his predecessor Geoff Hoon. 

It is amazing to think that since Alistair Darling’s long tenure (May 2002 – May 2006) there have been no less than four holders of the position, Douglas Alexander, Ruth Kelly, Hoon and now Adonis.  In fact since this government came to power 12 Ministers have stumbled along yet we have had only two Chancellors (or two Prime Minsters if you like) which says a lot for the whole attitude of the administration towards aviation. 

With the House of Commons away on their extended summer holiday Andrew Adonis has chosen The Guardian to expound on his policies towards the railways, and by innuendo aviation.  Trains are the way ahead with (subsidised) high speed lines spreading their tentacles all around the country according to the Peer.  Compare what is being done in France and Spain he says quietly forgetting that we live in a compact island with enormous planning restrictions and a lack of money.  No debate from Lord Adonis, he just pontificates.  

Flying Matters, the pro-aviation lobby group, summed up the airline industry’s feelings which have also been articulated by others.  "The idea that you could get rid of all domestic plane travel and use high speed rail is pie in the sky," a spokesman said.    The distinguished Adam Smith Institute calls it a terrible idea.

The problem for Lord Adonis is not just the trains.  Aviation is being attacked with regard to APD (Air Passenger Duty) set to double over the next 16 months.  He will say it is nothing to do with him but the Treasury.  But is he representing at Cabinet level all who need air travel or looking after the railway lobby?  An even more vital question is why aviation is not represented by a dedicated Minister?  “No taxation without representation” – that was the call of the 13 British Colonies in 1776.  They chucked the government out.  Adonis might be in for a short tenure.

Next month his Lordship will speak to the Aviation Club at the Institute of Directors.  Assuming he is still around (the last guest of the club was fired while he was actually addressing the members), he is likely to be coldly received.  And unlike a previous Minister he cannot duck out of the appointment claiming the Division Bells are ringing.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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