The impact of people power is often exaggerated in British politics. With some politicians receiving close to 1,000 emails each week from members of the public, post-bag campaigns can be easily overlooked, as constituents' concerns are responded to through standard letters and generic statements that merely welcome the debate or review being called for, rather than making a substantive contribution to it.
It was for this reason that it was especially gratifying to see MPs acknowledge and act upon their constituents' efforts in last week's debate on air passenger duty (APD).
Some 200,000 people have lobbied their MP over the summer calling for a review into the economic impacts of APD. To put this number in context this is larger than all the correspondence received against the government's plan to sell the forests, or privatise the NHS or cut disability benefits. In short, it has been the largest correspondence campaign of this parliament with every single MP receiving dozens of emails from their constituents. Not a single MP didn't receive an email - it was an extraordinary public response to a vital issue that affects the economy.
Following the successes of the A Fair Tax on Flying campaign, one over-riding positive could be taken from the debate itself. Priti Patel's motion, which called on "HM Treasury to commission a comprehensive study into the full economic impact of APD in the UK, including the effects on jobs and growth," received cross-party support from over 20 MPs, each of which stood up and expressed their concerns over the highest air passenger tax in the world.
Within the three hour time period allocated to the debate by the backbench Business Committee, MPs addressed numerous issues that were raised in their emails from constituents regarding the highest air passenger tax in the world, with little or no opposition. These included the negative effects the tax is having on ordinary families and their ability to fly, the damage it is doing to inbound tourism, and the wider disincentivising impact it is having on export-led growth and inward investment, as foreign companies opt to take their business elsewhere.
The message for the Treasury is becoming clear. MPs can say that not only do their constituents want them to carry out a review - 200,000 have already written to them calling for such action- but industry experts want it too. Even environmental groups echo the call for a study. The reasons for not doing one are few and far between.
Cross-party support is rare in politics and sadly wanting from much to do with aviation, but it was achieved here. The support for the issue was unanimous and clear - and that came about not just because of the validity and seriousness of the issue but because of the power of people like you and I who visited www.afairtaxonflying.org and sent their MP their views. A remarkable political achievement and something that MPs will be hard-pressed to ignore.
Of course, few expected the minister responsible for this tax, economic secretary to the Treasury, Sajid Javid, to conclude the debate in the Commons by announcing a U-turn on APD. Nevertheless, pressure is building on him and the Chancellor to take the logical step forward and commission a study in his Autumn Statement.
Since this tax was introduced in 1994, no study has been done about its economic impacts. If we are to levy the highest air tax in the world, surely we must understand the economic impact of doing so.
The 200,000 people who lobbied their MP on this issue deserve to be listened to, the MPs who put aside party differences to come together to champion the issues raised by their constituents deserve to be listened to and when economic recovery is the government's number one priority, looking carefully and rationally at how this tax may be making recovery harder not simpler is surely a sensible approach. 200,000 people are waiting for the Chancellor's answer. The pressure is clearly on Mr Osborne to provide answers in his Autumn Statement.Suggest a correction