It’s not often that British Airways and Virgin Atlantic agree on anything but they are united in opposing Tory plans to raise taxes on air travel. Yesterday’s right-leaning Sunday newspapers were all deeply sceptical about the Tories’ green tax plans and today has given the dailies their first chance to comment. They don’t make comfortable reading for the Conservative leadership. As illustrated in the graphic above – the Express, Sun, Telegraph, Mail and Times are all negative. Even on the much greener, left hand side of Fleet Street there’s division. The Mirror describes the Tories as "air-heads" but the hypocritical Independent is supportive in its main leader.
Interviewed on this morning’s Today programme, David Cameron attempted to defend his approach:
- He began by stating that any green taxation of air travel will be replacement taxation. Extra taxes on flights, he insisted, would be offset by lower taxes on families and business. It’s unfortunate that a tax-cutting and tax-raising announcements weren’t made simultaneously.
- He also said that the Tory green taxes would focus on environmental improvement and not revenue raising. He noted that it might be better to tax individual flights rather than passengers to discourage half-empty and inefficient flights. The Tory approach to green taxation is certainly more targeted than that of Gordon Brown’s although as The Times and John Redwood have argued there are probably even better tech-based ways of encouraging more environmentally-sensitive behaviours than through higher taxation.
- He said that there would be an air miles allowance so that the annual family holiday wouldn’t be taxed. The Sun disputes this this morning – pointing out that a 2,000 ‘green air miles allowance’ would mean travellers to Greece, Turkey, Canary Islands and most certainly Florida would be taxed.
- He said that most effort would focus on discouraging environmentally-harmful travel where there was a sensible alternative. Domestic rail travel should, he said, become more used than domestic air travel. Was this the same party leader who took the aeroplane to Scotland earlier this year?
Editor’s comment: "Mr Cameron’s performance was assured this morning and he speaks with passion on the environment and it is no wonder that he has invited another green politician – Al Gore – to address the Tory frontbench later this week. The danger for Mr Cameron is that his passion for the environment can easily start to resemble zealotry. Al Gore has been ridiculed on the other side of the pond as Rev’d Gore – the high priest of the environmental religion. David Cameron must be careful to avoid the same trap. It’s probably okay to catwalk in £65 Terry Plana footwear – made from recycled firemen’s trousers and carseats – but his suggestion on the Today programme that an annual report on Britain’s carbon footprint should be as important as the annual Treasury Budget borders on the messianic. Most British people who are struggling to make ends meet in Labour’s over-taxed, over-regulated, hi-crime Britain have more pressing priorities. It is a brave politician – and a foolish one – who puts green issues above those priorities and makes it more expensive for people to afford their once-in-a-year opportunity to escape from their troubles."
11am: Text of David Cameron’s environment speech (conservatives.com).