By Paul Goodman
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Tim Yeo, Chairman of the Climate Change Select Committee, once a Heathrow third runway opponent but now a Heathrow third runway supporter, has written a piece in the Daily Telegraph today about his view. In a sentence, it is that the new EU cap on emissions should end environmental objections to Heathrow expansion, since "airlines will fly their newest and quietest aircraft" there in consequence. "Indeed," he writes, "we could
cover the whole of Surrey with runways and not increase emissions by a
I agree with Tim Montgomerie that manifesto commitments should be honoured in all but exceptional circumstances, and the Government is in any case bound by the wording of the Coalition Agreement (as well as, more practicably, by the objections of the Liberal Democrats). I suspect that the Boris Island scheme is the best long-term option for Britain. But whatever Ministers resolve, they must act fast. A decision can't be postponed forever – not, at any rate, without damage to Ministers' reputations and, far worse, Britain's competitiveness.
Which brings me to my main point – namely, the language which Mr Yeo uses about David Cameron. Here we go:
" So the Prime Minister must ask himself whether he is man or mouse. His place
in history is assured as the leader who made the Tories (nearly) electable
again, an achievement that eluded three previous leaders. But does he want
to be another Harold Macmillan, presiding over a dignified slide towards
insignificance? Or is there somewhere inside his heart – an organ that still
remains impenetrable to most Britons – a trace of Thatcher, determined to
reverse the direction of our ship?
I am sorry to come over all Bufton Tufton, but I don't remember Select Committee Chairmen being this acidulous even about John Major.
Mr Yeo manages to pack almost undistilled contempt into three bare sentences, not to mention three dangerous suggestions (from the point of view of Conservative MPs and members, anyway). First, that the Prime Minister is no Mrs Thatcher, willing to take tough decisions. Second, that he is, rather, a Harold Macmillan – a footling Old Etonian. And finally, that he has no convictions. At least, that's the only way I can read Mr Yeo's elaborate jibe about that organ of Mr Cameron's remaining "impentrable to most Britons".
Parliament returns next week. The Prime Minister may have a plan to obtain the seven-to-ten point poll lead he needs over Labour to win a majority, but if so he hasn't yet spelt out what it is. Its absence leaves a vacuum. If he doesn't fill it swiftly, Tory MPs will fill it for him, with ferocious briefing off the record and increasingly – Yeo-style – with destructive remarks on it too: his leadership is at risk. The Select Committee Chairman's views about Heathrow will seize attention this morning. But his sub-text about the Prime Minister is more significant.