By Mark Wallace
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The pre-election pledge to oppose any and all expansion at Heathrow has proved to be a grave mistake. Years of inaction by successive governments means that the need for new airport capacity is now pressing, but the Government are hobbled on the issue and have delayed it until the Davies Commission reports after the next election.
At the moment it is embarrassing and a sore point when talking to business – but over time it risks undermining the oft-heard argument that the Coalition is all about "winning the global race". How can Britain win such a race if the infrastructure that connects us to global markets isn't up to the job?
The tangled thicket over Heathrow needs to be sorted out, which will be difficult enough. But now I gather the airports issue could become even stickier.
I'm told that some officers of Conservative Associations in East London have been in negotiations with anti-Heathrow campaigners, who have asked them to oppose any expansion or greater use of City Airport, too.
The deal under discussion would involve Tories at next year's council elections criticising the airport in return for canvassing support from anti-Heathrow campaigners. This is not national party policy and could threaten the status of the Royal Dock enterprise zone.
There are all sorts of problems with such a deal – given the often anti-capitalist nature of the anti-Heathrow groups I'd be sceptical that their activists would really turn out to promote Conservative candidates, while business voters and those whose jobs depend on City Airport would be turned off by such an unwise pledge.
But the policy implications would be the most serious – the last thing we need is any repeat of the current Heathrow fiasco. A key focus for the Conservative Party, top to bottom, should be on delivering growth, making it easier to do business and encouraging exports. More anti-airport rhetoric would only harm that effort.