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Tuesday 28 August 2012

Cameron’s Heathrow Fix

[Update at end of post]

Almost as soon as the Bank Holiday squelched to a close, the debate over airport capacity in the south east has been reignited by none other than Tory MP and pal of Bozza Tim Yeo, who has very deliberately chucked the grenade of Heathrow expansion into the policy room, where it has gone off all over Young Dave. And this time he doesn’t have anyone else to blame but himself.

Guess who's waiting in the wings, chaps?

Yeo can hardly be sacked from any ministerial position, as he doesn’t hold one. So his freedom as a back bencher has allowed him to goad Cameron with the question of whether he is a man or a mouse. If only the choice confronting the Prime Minister were such a binary one. It is not, and I’m sure Yeo is well aware of it. For starters, there is the cabinet to consider.

Not only would approving a third runway at Heathrow go down like a cup of cold sick with the Lib Dems, it would also make the position of Cameron’s own Transport Secretary untenable. Justine Greening, who represents Putney, formerly the seat of “Shagger” Mellor, has made clear her opposition to expanding Heathrow from the outset. Cameron knew that when he gave her the job.

And she isn’t the only local Tory MP to have nailed their colours to the mast on the subject: Zac Goldsmith in nearby Richmond Park is of similar mind. If that isn’t enough of a problem, Young Dave has London’s occasional Mayor attacking from the other flank with his idea for a new airport in the Thames estuary, £60 billion price tag and SS Richard Montgomery notwithstanding.

What to do? Well, wringing much more capacity out of Heathrow without expanding it is not going to do any more than kick the can a very short distance down the road. Proceeding with HS2 won’t bring any kind of relief for several years – not unless and until significant time savings can be shown on routes like London to Glasgow and Edinburgh. So the train isn’t going to ride to his rescue.

Cameron either has to muddle on – increasingly difficult even in the short term, given all the flak from not only his own MPs but also the aviation industry – or make some kind of decision. Not expanding Heathrow means his options are either gifting Bozza yet more ground by going with Borisport, giving the go-ahead for expansion of both Stansted and Gatwick (potentially very unpopular), or appropriating Northolt.

As I noted previously, the RAF may be about to cease operational use of Northolt. It’s close to Heathrow, and if the site were redeveloped with two runways on the same 09/27 orientation, could take much of the shorter haul traffic. It is not ideal – you can’t move planes between the two – but it has the advantage of Not Being Bozza’s Idea, while bringing more capacity.

Whether his MPs will accept that solution is another matter, though.

[UPDATE 1250 hours: predictably, the flannelled fool Henry Cole, returning to work today at the Guido Fawkes blog (I know, I know, how can they tell?), has spun the entire Heathrow affair as a way to kick Tim Yeo. Why the Fawkes blog is so enamoured of this course of action - given Yeo isn't a minister - is strange.

What is also strange is the missing of rather more significant players who have been lobbying for more capacity, and banging on about more flights to China, which is the specific reason the buffoon Cole is whingeing today. Players such as BAA, the CBI, BA and other airlines, hoteliers, bankers and business folk have also urged action.

Just because Tim Yeo has an interest in a firm that has a presence in China is an utterly lame reason to go after him. But then, as he likes to say, Master Cole is utterly shameless. Another fine mess, once again]


Anonymous said...

The fact his company has just signed a massive deal in China, on the day he loudly protests about the lack of direct routes into Chinese provinces where his business interests are based does seem pretty relevant to me.

Particularly when he was opposed to the scheme such a short time ago. If he were my MP I'm not sure I'd feel he had my best intentions at heart over his own and those of the companies on whose boards he serves.

Tim Fenton said...

This anonymous comment is in a style that I find vaguely familiar. The opening sentence of the second paragraph, which belongs with the previous one, is a dead giveaway.

A memorandum of understanding to provide Biomass fuel for one plant is hardly a "massive deal". And Yeo is not "loudly protesting" about anything.

The attempt to personalise the debate against Yeo is pointless and will lead nowhere. No real damage is going to be done to someone who is old enough to be able to retire and not be concerned about where the money is going to come from.