Monday, July 24, 2017

Concorde was the Brexit of 50 years ago

I was going to include Tom Kelsey's Guardian article drawing parallels between Concorde and Brexit in a Six of the Best, but it deserves an article in its own right.

Kelsey shows that Concorde never had a hope of making money for Britain:
As secretary of state for industry, Tony Benn revealed to parliament in 1974 that Britain would not recover any of the £600m that the government spent on Concorde. Putting sixteen Concordes into production would also cost another £200m, at the very least. Due to their high running costs, Concordes could not be sold for more than a fifth of the price of manufacturing, so the cost could never be recouped ... 
Only the captive national airlines of Britain and France ever operated Concorde. It was to be described by one economist as among the three worst decisions in civil investment in the history of humanity.
Both Harold Wilson and Ted Heath wanted to cancel the project, but both had political reasons for not doing so, Then, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, Michael Heseltine attempted to be Concorde's salesman.

The newspapers were saying what the powerful wanted them to say. Optimistic estimates about the future profits Concorde supplied by the British Aircraft Corporation filled the pages of the broadsheets and tabloids. 
The only journalist who called for Concorde to be cancelled with any persistence was the much-derided Andrew Wilson of the Observer. Other media voices were aware of the flaws in the project, but found their efforts to expose them hampered. 
In the late 1960s, the BBC reached a compromise with the BAC: the broadcaster could question the project as long as they gave Concorde’s manufacturers the right to reply. "You may not realise it but this was a very considerable movement forward", wrote a BBC news journalist.
One difference between the two projects, I would add, is that Concorde was a thing of beauty whereas Brexit is very ugly indeed.

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