Traveling is often considered a privilege. You need money and time, as well as the confidence to be welcomed anywhere else. Travelling across large distances during a crisis or a pandemic is a sign of entitlement.
The great benefits of traveling - whether they be social, cultural or psychological - are not disappearing. The power of the travel lobby has not diminished. After a long Covid hiatus in which flights to the US were suspended for Britons, most media coverage was reminiscent of an airline press release. Only occasional hints were made that the transatlantic jets of today are not compatible with Cop26's goals.
Any British government would have a hard time weighing up the benefits and costs of travel. It is a claustrophobic nation with a restricted climate, but there are many beautiful and varied places within a short distance. Foreign holidays have been a popular mass delight for over a century. Britons fly more than anyone in comparable European countries. Britain has been a travel-driven country for centuries thanks to trade, immigration and emigration. Many Britons have been traveling from one small island to the next for centuries.
Boris Johnson, with his love for private jets but a resentful attitude towards bad news, doesn't feel like a prime Minister suited to bring our travel habits under control. He still hopes it won't be necessary. He wrote in the foreword of his latest government plan to reduce carbon emissions: "In 2050 we will still drive cars and fly planes... but our cars [and] our airplanes will be electric, so that we can fly guilt-free."
Johnson's enthusiasm for roadbuilding and refusal to increase fuel duty are just a few of the many signs that Johnson is leading a government that values mobility. The "Global Britain" and "tilt towards the Indo-Pacific” in defense policy, as well as the Aukus alliance to the US and Australia, all point to a country that is constantly seeking out new connections with distant countries while actively ignoring or undermining those of its European neighbors. Brexit is not a climate friendly strategy.
Today's Tories, such as Sir Geoffrey Cox with his preference for the Caribbean in winter over his Devon constituency, often act as though they are eager to leave Britain, despite all their patriotic rhetoric. This restlessness has been a hallmark of Conservatism. Landowners moving from one place to another; imperialists sailing away in order to seize power; business executives earning air miles; wealthy southerners buying second homes abroad; and working-class retirees heading to warmer countries. They have all been represented energetically by the party.
The Conservatives also spoke a lot about the importance and loyalty of British citizens to their home towns and the need to protect Britain from foreign influencers and incomers. With the help of globetrotting press lords, the party has repeatedly attacked its opponents as "citizens from nowhere" and rootless.
It can be frustrating to see the hypocrisy in it all. This is not surprising considering that many left-leaning people have been deeply attached to their communities through activism and socioeconomic circumstances. Many Labour supporters who have remained in the same urban areas for decades are not "citizens from nowhere". They are the exact opposite.
It is important to keep in mind that conservatism's double standards may be what makes it attractive to people. Like other freedoms that the Tories claim they support, the party doesn’t believe freedom should be available for all. This is evident in the government’s treatment of asylum seekers and migrants. Regardless of whether they realize it or not, many non-Tories are in agreement with the government. It can be difficult to reconcile the desire to escape this country and to keep outsiders out of it if you feel that it is too crowded.
Conservative voters seem to be particularly opposed to cutting down on travel. Ipsos Mori polling shows that they are less likely than Labour supporters, to support a tax for frequent flyers. However, there's a possibility that this could change. A total of 15% of UK citizens take 70% of UK's air travel. Even if all of these frequent flyers were Tories, which they aren't, it is still a smaller percentage than the total vote.
Many Conservatives don't travel a lot. There may be a mix of less wealthy Tories and those who are more concerned about the environment who believe - or will feel, as the climate crisis worsens-- that the government should not prioritize protecting the unrestrained lifestyles of the wealthiest Britons.
However, it is difficult to imagine a party that values consumer choice severely restricting flying or driving. Modern Conservatism offers a seductive prospect: not having to consider the larger consequences of consumer choices.
It is easier to picture a Labour government led by Keir Sternmer or another stern figure telling us that unlimited travel cannot be justified - at least not until zero-emission technology makes it possible. Even though the Tories have had a horrible autumn, it seems that such a government like zero-emission planes is still a far away possibility. It's up to us to make travellers less toxic.