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Volcanic ash: who cares, there is an election to be fought

It was only today that the government seemed to remember that despite the fact there was an election campaign to be fought, they were still supposed to be governing the country (Thumbnail credit The Ark Royal, photo copyright Des Colhoun)

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The recent volcanic eruptions have caused massive disruption to the UK. However it was only today (the fifth consecutive day of cancelled flights and travel chaos) that the government seemed to remember that despite the fact there was an election campaign to be fought, they were still supposed to be governing the country.

Had this crisis occurred four weeks ago, it is unlikely that we would not have seen four days of complete silence from the government. On Thursday during the Prime Ministerial debate, seemingly the only other news story worth talking about, there was only a veiled reference to the volcanic ash with David Cameron mentioning a "dark cloud over Britain."

On Monday the government's emergency committee COBRA held a meeting in order to come up with a plan and the rather unfortunately named Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, emerged riding in on his white horse. However the new plans come too little too late, the operation to send three naval ships to Spain will not swing into action until Tuesday at the earliest and by which time some people will have had to spend several nights sleeping in airports or expensive hotels. The plan to use Spain as a hub is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of solving the problem as in excess of 150,000 Britons are still stranded abroad.

While I agree the election campaign is hugely important, the Labour government have completely failed in their duty to the British people. The only sources of advice until today have been the National Air Traffic Service (NATS) and the various 24hour news broadcasters. The lacklustre response from the government is simply not good enough.

If Gordon Brown was hoping to win the election on the platform that he was a "safe pair of hands" he has proved the opposite, by simply ignoring the crisis and hoping it would go away he has severely damaged his credibility. Lets hope there isn't another crisis before the 6th of May as Labour have proved that winning the election rather than governing the country is their priority.

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11 Comments

Alex Rider Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

COBRA? Lord Adonis?

This all sounds a bit Anthony Horowitz to me.

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Eazy E Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

What the hell was Gordon Brown supposed to do? Fly out there himself on his magical pixie flying machine and bring everyone back home? The situation was entirely unpredictable and making a careful decision before acting was, imo, the wisest thing to do. It seems whatever the government does it can't satisfy amateur student hacks like yourself, turning a crisis into an opportunity for cheap political point scoring

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~J Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

This article is pathetic. What was Gordon Brown supposed to do - put a giant vacuum cleaner in the sky? He wasn't the one who made the decision to effectively close the skies - and the British military is also obeying the ban. I think that spending money on sending British naval vehicles out to pick up some stranded Brits is a waste of taxpayer money - it's a nuisance for the people stuck over there, yes, but it's not one that you can blame Labour for, especially during the election! Shocking bias; you don't hear the other parties suggesting anything.

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Kate Goligher Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

I did not expect Gordon Brown to come and personally row me back across the Irish sea to York. However at a point in time when airlines are saying one thing, nats the other and the met office somewhere in between, some good leadership would have been useful!! The tories and the lib dems have also been useless but they aren't currently in government.

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Dominic Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

I hadn't noticed the lack of government response but now that you mention it, I can see where you're coming from. It does seem curious that it is only in the last couple of days that Gordon Brown has said anything about the issue. There have been suggestions that he has deliberately avoided talking about it for fear of being accused of trying to make political capital out of it, but I think as the Prime Minister he should have shown decisiveness and resolved to ignore such suggestions; I think for once this is a situation that could be labelled a 'crisis'. Furthermore, he seems unwilling to pledge any financial support to British airlines affected by the disruption, which is understandable but could also be dangerous. And Lord Adonis, when interviewed on BBC News and asked about airlines' obligations to their passengers stranded abroad, was unnecessarily evasive and refused to answer a basic question about the number of days BA were obliged to cover their accommodation costs. Good article! Shame on Jason Rose.

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George Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

"However at a point in time when airlines are saying one thing, nats the other and the met office somewhere in between, some good leadership would have been useful!"

The airlines are desperate to fly, so they are clearly saying whatever suits them. Thankfully, NATS is the only authority that can make decisions here, and they base their decisions on data from the Met Office.

I don't understand what you mean by 'good leadership' here. Can you be more specific? Considering the circumstances, what do you think the government should have done? Take over some of the responsibilities of NATS? Tell the Met Office what to say? Make it illegal for the ash cloud to enter British airspace?

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Kate Goligher Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

I personally think they should have stepped in earlier and taken a clear line putting NATS firmly in control of the decision making to prevent the airlines from bullying NATS. Also they should have issued a statement reminding airlines of their responsibilities under EU law to passengers, as the treatment of passengers by airlines was extremely varied. They also should have stepped in along with other EU ministers to try and prevent profiteering.

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George Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

Fair points.

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Crouton of substance in an opaque minestrone Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

Issuing a statement?
The airlines should already be aware of their position. From what I saw, the Government did the only thing it really could do- advise people to contact the British Embassy in whatever country they're stuck in if they get into trouble, and to look over what they're entitled to by their travel companies.

He could hardly have done much more. It's not exactly a damning indictment of the Government's incompetence that they left it a couple of days before going in all guns blazing.

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~J Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

What's happened as a result of the situation is appalling - and with tickets on offer for PS600+ more than usual there are blatantly people abusing the situation - but you can't blame the government for it. What Gordon Brown has been doing in the last few days is uncalled for; had this 'crisis' (and it really isn't a crisis) occurred four weeks ago, we probably wouldn't have heard anything from the government and rightly so! It's only because there's an election on that GB (and the other parties) are bothered about it. It has stopped them from campaigning at the other end of the country. The problems that it has caused Liverpool and Fulham and the fact that it has stopped Milliband et al from attending the funeral in Poland are really frustrating but they wouldn't have caused the navy to rush to the public's aid! It really seems silly to blame them. "The only source of advice..." What advice would you expect the government to give? "Probably try and find alternative transportation"? They issued a statement about what people can do with cancelled flights as soon as it became a multi-day problem so it's not only now that they're talking....

The article isn't bad. I was probably a bit harsh before. But the blatant bias against Labour is harsh when they have actually been doing more than other governments at this time (and more than they needed to) and the others haven't been doing much at all. Though I accept that they could do more and that they are the government and the others parties aren't.

Re: Dominic. The problem the government, and other authorities, is that the situation is out of everyone's control. When the plane companies want to fly and are stopped from doing so (despite test flights that suggest it's ok to fly), it seems harsh to make them pay for accommodation or compensation - especially when there'll be a number of people who have refused to stay in cheap accommodation and will try to get their PS1,000 per night bill covered. Likewise it's harsh for the people stranded abroad who have a variety of different circumstances but are unlikely to be rolling in money - and who have probably had to pay several hundred pounds each. Ultimately the bill will probably end up, in part, at the government and taxpayers but you can understand that none of the major parties want to be stating anything as fact at this time!

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Mother Nature Posted on Sunday 18 Aug 2019

It was a volcano!
'lacklustre response', what exactly were they supposed to do?
The airspace was closed, what difference would it have made if Gordon Brown had announced that it would open once the ash was clear?
The Government is not an aviation expert.

'ignoring the crisis and hoping it would go away'. Ignoring is an odd choice of word. You can't make the problem go away with an official statement on the matter. Truth is, the ships are pretty useless, we are all sitting back and hoping it goes away, expecting anything more is ridiculous.


...That said, Cameron could have done something about it. Simply re-direct all the hot-air that he is spouting and it could have blown the ash away.

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