How the Lib Dems fared...

Mark Pack - head of innovations for the Liberal Democrats - reports a mixed picture for his party

It's the afternoon after and results are still coming through thick and fast, so - between now slightly drooping eyelids - how does it look for the Liberal Democrats so far?

Taking the four yardsticks I blogged about on Wednesday, the scorecard looks like this so far.

First - Scotland. It looks like our vote is up, but we won't be gaining seats, and there is also a similar picture in Wales. Some individually excellent results, including the mammoth vote increase (+20%) for Tavish Scott in Shetland, are mixed in with the less good.

Second - the key Westminster marginals. This is the very good news for the Liberal Democrats today - with gains from the Conservatives in seats like Winchester, Eastleigh, Westmorland and Lonsdale, Cheadle and Eastbourne. If the Conservatives were set to make major gains from the Liberal Democrats at the next general election, they should have been romping home in seats like this - but they weren't.

In some places there is clearly a very large difference between our results in key constituencies and the Liberal Democrat performance in other nearby areas. Where we have suffered badly, as in Bournemouth, it seems to have been on the back of particular local controversies, but as shown by the relatively good results in Bath - scene of numerous controversies over the spa baths - these can be turned around.

This high level of variation in results from area to area is not just good news for the Liberal Democrats but also in part reflects voters' increasing interest in local circumstances and policies - which causes more variation in voting from area to area. That is bound to be good for democracy, regardless of whether we benefit or suffer from such variation.

Third - how well have the Tories done? They will still be a long way short of the level of local government strength that Labour had after 1996 or the Conservatives had after 1978. And the BBC estimate of their national share of the vote is only up 1% on last year.

Fourth - the Labour / Liberal Democrat contest in the popular vote.
Labour look to have just edged the Liberal Democrats (this time round).

I wrote before that, "the result I'll be looking out for most closely [is] the one where I was involved in a last minute legal scramble to sort out problems with the nomination paperwork. Let's hope that hassle was worth it!" It was - chalk up one Liberal Democrat gain.

Mark Pack is the Head of Innovations for the Lib Dems. He previously worked in their Campaigns & Elections Department for seven years.
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Boris Johnson isn't risking his political life over Heathrow

The anti-Heathrow campaigner was never a committed environmentalist. 

A government announcement on expanding London’s airports is expected today, and while opposition forces have been rallying against the expected outcome - a third runway at Heathrow - the decision could also be a divisive one for the ruling Conservative party. A long consultation period will allow these divisions to fester. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 Conservative MPs are against expansion at the Heathrow site. The Prime Minister’s own constituents are threatening legal action, and the former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to step down as MP for Richmond rather than let the airport develop.

But what of Boris Johnson? The politician long synonymous with Heathrow opposition - including a threat to lie down “in front of those bulldozers” - is expected to call the decision a mistake. But for a man unafraid to dangle from a zipwire, he has become unusually reticent on the subject.

The reticence has partly been imposed upon him. In a letter to her cabinet ministers, Theresa May has granted them freedom from the usual rules of collective responsibility (under which cabinet ministers are required to support government positions). But she has also requested that they refrain from speaking out in the Commons, from “actively” campaigning against her position, and from calling “into question the decision making process itself”.  

Johnson is not about to start cheering for Heathrow. But unlike Goldsmith, he is no committed environmentalist - and he's certainly a committed politician.  

Boris’s objections to the expansion at Heathrow have all too often only extended as far as the lives of his London constituents. These local impacts are not to be belittled – in his role of mayor of London, he rightly pointed to the extreme health risks of increased noise and air pollution. And his charisma and profile have also boosted community campaigns around these issues. 

But when it comes to reducing emissions, Johnson is complacent. He may have come a long way since a 2013 Telegraph article in which he questioned whether global warming was real. Yet his plan to build an alternative “hub” airport in the Thames Estuary would have left the question of cutting UK aviation emissions worryingly un-resolved. This lack of curiosity is alarming considering his current job as foreign secretary. 

And there are reasons to be concerned. According to Cait Hewitt at the Aviation Environment Federation, the UK fails to meet its targets for CO2 reduction. And the recent UN deal on aviation emission mitigation doesn’t even meet the commitments of the UK’s own Climate Change Act, let alone the more stringent demands of the Paris Agreement. “Deciding that we’re going to do something that we know is going to make a problem worse, before we’ve got an answer, is the wrong move”, said Hewitt.

There is a local environmental argument too. Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson from the activist group “Rising Up”, says the pollution could affect Londoners' health: "With 70 per cent of flights taken just by 15 per cent of the UK's population... this is just not acceptable in a civilised democracy.”

The way Johnson tells it, his reason for staying in government is a pragmatic one. “I think I'd be better off staying in parliament to fight the case, frankly," he told LBC Radio in 2015. And he's right that, whatever the government’s position, the new “national policy statement” to authorise the project will likely face a year-long public consultation before a parliamentary vote in late 2017 or early 2018. Even then the application will still face a lengthy planning policy stage and possible judicial review. 

But if the foreign secretary does fight this quietly, in the back rooms of power, it is not just a loss to his constituents. It means the wider inconsistencies of his position can be brushed aside - rather than exposed and explored, and safely brought down to ground. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.