In the wake of yesterday’s publicity over the interim report of the independent Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, into the future of commercial aviation in the UK – contrary to some expectations, listing one Gatwick and two Heathrow schemes on a shortlist of three, with ‘further work’ to be done on a potential Isle of Grain (east London) proposal in addition – the public was confronted with a period of typical British politics in action.
I was driving back from Hampshire late yesterday morning and caught a segment of Victoria Derbyshire’s show on Radio Five Live, in which she interviewed two lady politicians, one a Tory MP and the other a Labour MP, on the Davies announcement.
I must confess here I am no particular fan of La Derbyshire.
However, on this occasion she had correctly spotted in advance the hypocrisy and political expediency inherent in the news that the Coalition government had kicked this tricky subject into the long grass by indicated that no decision on this subject would be made until after Davies had presented his final report in 2015, i.e. after the next General Election. By this route, of course, neither the Coalition parties nor the Opposition would have to commit to any position on the subject at hand, still less include it in their election manifestos.
[That very morning the Tories had already been shipping gallons of embarrassment over their apparent U-turn, courtesy of the media cheekily dragging from the archives pictorial reminders of the David Cameron 2010 General Election pledge ‘No ifs, no buts – no third runway at Heathrow’.]
Derbyshire therefore cleverly introduced her question-and-answer session with the statement that the government’s announcement that no decision would be taken on this politically thorny subject until after the 2015 General Election was clearly a cop-out.
She then systematically invited first the Tory MP, and then the Labour one, to give their personal and Party views on the topic. After all, as had happened in the 2010 General Election, surely the British public was entitled to know where the Parties stood before being asked to cast their votes in 2015?
Despite the full weight of encouragement, prompting and chiding that Derbyshire brought to bear – and she was trying her best – neither politician was prepared be at all forthcoming.
Well, beyond stating the obvious that, firstly, this vitally-important decision on the future of Britain’s aviation capacity was years (if not decades) overdue and, secondly, they both earnestly hoped that the right decision would be reached as soon as possible after the new government of the day – of whatever political hue – had received Davies’ final report in 2015.
After about ten minutes of this display of the time-honoured political art of generating hot air for minutes at a time without saying anything at all, the session ended.
I was undecided at to whether Derbyshire had just given up in disgust or, alternatively, had cutely allowed both her studio guests just enough rope to drive the listeners mad with distraction and frustration at their cynical and transparent filibustering.
What is all the fuss about?
It’s simple. It’s that age-old and insolvable dilemma between what the political classes would like to do – or indeed, like not do – and the inconvenient practicality of life that, in a ‘one man, one vote’ system of democracy, they have to consult the electorate once in a while.
The Tories have already worked out that, in order to have any chance of winning the 2015 General Election outright, they cannot afford to lose their key marginal seats.
Sadly, many of these are in areas of western Greater London that would be adversely affected by any decision to extend or grow Heathrow. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that both the Lib-Dems and Labour are in a similar position.
Hence the ‘off stage’ cross-party consensus that none of them want this subject to dominate the 2015 Election. They all know, or suspect, that expanding the capacity of either Heathrow or Gatwick is the obvious and logical decision, but none of them want to admit it.
That is to say, until after the 2015 General Election, at which point we voters will be powerless to stop them making whatever decision they want.