All entries for Thursday 15 January 2009

January 15, 2009

The wacky world of newspaper ownership

Ordinarily, the news that a Russian billionaire is buying one of Britain’s best-known newspapers, the Evening Standard, would be cause for surprise, and maybe even concern.

But Alexander Lebedev is no ordinary Russian billionaire.

True, he is ex-KGB, as almost any successful Russian seems to need to be nowadays.

But Lebedev also owns Novaya Gazeta – the newspaper that Anna Politkovskaya was reporting for before her assassination in 2006.

Lebedev’s fought back against a suffocating regime in Russia – he should have no problem dealing with City Hall and Westminster.

His bigger challenge will be trying to make money out of the Standard, whose finances apparently resemble a leaky bucket.


Maybe we've got this transport thing wrong?

Forgive me a bit of a Clarkson moment, but maybe all this third-runway, High Speed Train news is a mistake.

I’ve come to this conclusion for one reason: Look which mode of transport is seeing the greatest improvements in energy efficiency, and is closest to becoming CO2 neutral.

Tesla RoadsterIt’s the car.

Planes look likely to pump out greenhouse gases for another 100 years or so – there’s no realistic alternative to kerosene. Its high-altitude dispersion of those chemicals also makes them even more dangerous.

High Speed Trains run on electricity. Which comes from power stations. Most of this, in the UK, at the moment, means coal or gas. And if you think the future of electricity generation is totally green, well, just look at Kingsnorth.

Fast trains also use a lot of electricity. Existing cars are arguably about as green as high-speed trains which run on coal-supplied electricity.

So to cars… hydrogen models are a reality and electric ones are there as well (albeit with the same problems as trains.)

The next five years are likely to see enormous growth in the number of CO2-free cars being produced. While I wasn’t blown away by the new Prius (a measly 50mpg) there are models like the Tesla and the Bolt which might actually be the future.

Greenpeace would choke on their organic muesli, but maybe the long-term eco-friendly choice is to build better motorways with less congestion?


Is Labour too scared of business to say 'No'?

Finding a good reason to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport isn’t hard. The trouble is, there’s only one.

It’ll apparently be good for business.

Some airlines argue that it’s good for passenger equality too because more ‘slots’ means more cheap flights for the lower-middle class. The only trouble is that it’s not true. George Monbiot estimates more than half of Ryanair’s adverts are placed in the Daily Telegraph.

Put simply, a bigger Heathrow means more flights for people with second homes in the Med.

The strangest thing about the whole Heathrow argument is who is opposing it.

Heathrow AirportThe Mayor of London, the Conservative Party (their leadership, at least) and the Liberal Democrats. All in unison.

For Labour to be left on the other side with the CBI suggests the government’s reasons are skewed somehow.

I think they’re scared.

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling know that in the current economic climate, the economy is their soft spot. Any decision they make that could be seen as damaging to business is, right now, potentially fatal.

What’s strange is that the government hasn’t – until now, at least – taken high-speed rail more seriously. Spain is throwing 220mph lines across their country like confetti. France has had the TGV for years. We’ve got… er… the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Eventually.

If you’re flying from London to Scotland, the plane is a) cheaper b) quicker and c) more convenient.

Perhaps allowing a third runway is just politically easier. If flights are delayed, airlines get the blame. If a high-speed rail link is delayed, the government is blamed by association.

But by the time a new rail line is built, or a new runway is constructed, Gordon Brown will be gone and forgotten.

This is a long-term decision being taken for a short-term reason: Fear.


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