By Tim Montgomerie
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I don't primarily see aircraft as sources of pollution or noisy machines. I see them as our connection to overseas markets and overseas markets' connection to us. I also see them as the route to a guaranteed sunshiney holiday for a tired out family, yearning for a break. I see them as essential to Britain's economic competitiveness.
If I lived under the Heathrow flightpath I might feel differently (although aircraft are, thankfully, becoming quieter (and more fuel efficient)) but I think the Conservative Party was wrong to oppose a third runway at the UK's hub airport in our 2010 manifesto. But we did. Here's the clear and unambiguous wording:
"Our goal is to make Heathrow airport better, not bigger. We will stop the third runway and instead link Heathrow directly to our high speed rail network, providing an alternative to thousands of flights. In addition, we will: block plans for second runways at Stansted and Gatwick".*
Desperate to win votes across the South-East – which we would otherwise have lost to the Liberal Democrats – we made the wrong commitment but the manifesto left us with as much wiggle room as in the seat of a budget airline.
Despite this, tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph reports that Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, is the latest senior Tory to call for a U-turn on the policy. Grant Shapps appeared to do so in today's Daily Telegraph. I don't see the point for two reasons. One is the break of a clear promise and I don't think parties should break promises without exceptional justifications. Two, I can't see the Liberal Democrats U-turning even if we do. The public anguish is all pointless therefore. The sensible course is to go back to the electorate in 2015 with a different policy or start exploring the possibility of second hub airports at, for example, Luton or on the Thames Estuary.
* Cameron was even more emphatic than the Tory manifesto; "No ifs, no buts, no third runway," he promised voters.