Politicians find it attractive to dodge tricky decisions. Whether asking IPSA to decide MPs pay or Sir Howard Davies to decide whether or not to have a third runway at Heathrow Airport. They feel that asking someone else to take them offers an escape. It’s a theme familiar in episodes of Yes Minister. But it doesn’t work. Or at least it can only work for temporary period. The electorate are not fools. They will not say: “What a disgraceful decision – but since IPSA/Sir Howard/the European Union/etc wanted it the Government had no choice, so the politicans can’t be blamed.”
Similarly Michael Gove won’t get very far saying that the law doesn’t allow what would effectively be a new grammar school in Sevenoaks. Does he think the law should be changed? Is the problem the Liberal Democrats blocking such a change? Politicians need to be straight with voters about what they believe should happen and how they intend to achieve it.
So far as Heathrow is concerned if the Government imagine that the Mayor of London Boris Johnson will defer to Sir Howard’s verdict then they are in for a shock. The Heathrow lobby warn that the alternative of a Thames Estuary airport – Boris Island – could mean Heathrow would close. Great, says Boris. That would release land the size of Kensington and Chesea for fantastic quality housing and high tech industries. While west Londoners would cease to be woken at five in the morning. Boris thinks that Heathrow was “a 1940s planning error.”
The Conservative manifesto in 2010 said:
“Our goal is to make Heathrow Airport better, not bigger. We will stop the third runway.”
The pledge was honoured. It can be added that it was for the 2010-15 Parliament – that was the idea about the contents of the 2010 election manifestos. However Zac Goldsmith feels that any change in plans – even without any legislation proposed until after 2015 – would be against the spirit of that pledge. He is threatening to resign and cause a byelection.
The Labour Party have difficulties of their own on this issue. In 2010 they supported the third runway. Then they dropped their support for it. Now they are backing it again. This has come about with Ed Miliband caving in to he demands of Ed Balls.
My view is that politically, economically and environmentally Boris Island would be a winner. If the Government take a different view, instead backing a third runway at Heathrow, let them make their case. But don’t try and hide behind Sir Howard.