I recently used this space to bemoan the British government’s War On Travel. Under the guise of environmentalism, the newly installed Tory government has undertaken a scheme to limit the mobility of its citizenry, by imposing punitive taxes on flying, and by limiting arrivals and departures. The new government has a particular ire for budget carriers like Ryanair, whose cheap flights have done much to level the traditionally stratified British class system. Like the Tory elitists they are, Britain’s new rulers, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, want to see to it that the working classes stay in their place. No more saucy weekends in Budapest – it’s back to blighted Brighton with them.
We’ve now reached a new nadir in the Tory reassertion of old-fashioned class superiority. The UK’s new government has taken to likening cheap flights and travel to drug addiction and alcohol abuse, and therefore working class travelers to junkies and boozers. In the UK, taking cheap flights to Spain, Estonia, and Portugal is now known as “binge flying.”
As the New York Times reported earlier this month, “The government decided that enabling more flying was incompatible with Britain’s oft-stated goal of curbing emissions. Britons have become accustomed to easy, frequent flying — jetting off to weekend homes in Spain and bachelor parties in Prague — as England has become a hub for low-cost airlines.” This all in an effort to fight what the government spokespeople, without irony, call “binge flying.” It’s telling that flights on legacy (and hence more expensive) carriers like British Airways are not maligned as “binge” carriers. Rather, it’s the working man’s airlines that get that designation.
It’s a shrewd – if appalling – move on the part of the Tories to liken cheap travel to binge drinking and drugging. After all, it plays into widespread stereotypes in Britain regarding the working class and its alleged predilection for heavy drinking and drug taking. In the UK, young, white, working class people – known colloquially as yobs or chavs – are maligned as dangerous and decadent hedonists. Thus, they are subjected to increasing levels of supervision and surveillance, with booze bans, strict anti-smoking regulations, and other illiberal restrictions now the law of the land. By referring to travel as just another form of substance abuse, it becomes logical for the British government to take steps to limit it. Logical, if distasteful. Distasteful, if not outright disgusting.
I’ve long thought of England as the European equivalent of “Flyover Country,” just a dull expanse to pass over on the way to more interesting destinations, like France, Germany, Denmark, or the Netherlands. Apparently, now, that’s one thing that David Cameron and I agree on.