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January 27th, 2015 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 1 Comment · Politics

At tonight’s council meeting, to the surprise of nobody, the council effectively voted in favour of an extra runway at Heathrow.

The vote was 25 to 11.  Presumably the reason why that only adds up to 36 is because of the very public declaration by one councillor that he wouldn’t vote on something that wasn’t explicitly in his election address, which shows a remarkable misunderstanding of the fundamental principle of representative democracy for somebody who wants to be an MP. I don’t know whether he was actually in the meeting or up in Stoke campaigning for himself, which would be representing his constituents even less.

Anyway, I’m glad I wasn’t there. Such events are rarely good-natured because it is very easy for a crowd who all passionately believe in the same thing to turn into a bit of an angry mob. I say that as somebody who has been at very partisan events like the anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid rallies in the 80’s. If somebody had stood up on the stage and offered a well-considered defence of apartheid I know it wouldn’t have gone well. It is just human nature really.

The thing is, we frame events as ‘debates’ but in reality the people who turn up tend to be disproportionately from one side, the side with most motivation or the most to lose or the most to gain, or whatever. At which point the atmosphere is more like a rally than a debate. Nobody with a minority view will want to to voice it, unless they are the sort of person who likes to provoke an argument.

What is interesting is that the local paper did a survey of about 1000 people in town and found that over half said they were in favour of expansion at Gatwick and about a quarter were undecided. The reactions to that survey have been fun.

I have genuinely heard people say it isn’t valid because they only asked 1000 people and our population is 100,000. Whether they were actually proposing that a survey can only be valid if it polls all the infants and toddlers as well I don’t know. I do know that national opinion polls that newspapers slavishly publish used to have samples that small to represent the whole country, back when they used to have to do them all in face-to-face interviews. I reckon a survey of over 1% of the voters is pretty good coverage – its almost a tenth of the way to making up the proportion that actually vote in local elections in some parts of the town!

Even funnier was somebody who then added “well they didn’t ask me!” as if no opinion survey could ever be valid if they were not part of it.

My favourite reaction though, and one I have some sympathy with, is “well they only say that because they don’t know all the facts”. That is true, and probably nobody does know all the facts, but there is a huge dose of confirmation bias going on. When people talk about “the facts” they mean “the fact I paid attention to and not those inconvenient ones that contradict my opinion”. As it happens, there are ‘facts’ that support both sides but our system and media have trained us to see everything in absolute black and white.

The reason why this is my favourite reaction is that it is always said with a total lack of irony, when we are 100 days away from a general election where a huge number of people will vote for a government based on how one party’s leader looks while eating a bacon sandwich or how another party leader enjoys a fag and a pint, or how another went to Eton, regardless of any consideration of ability or policies.

Apart from all that, the futility of it all is that the decision has always been more likely to be to expand Heathrow anyway. Partly because that is always the default position. Even if Crawley council begged for an extra runway at Gatwick the money would still be on Heathrow.


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