It was Boris who won the biggest cheer last night

The closing ceremony again demonstrated the Mayor's unrivalled popularity.

Perhaps it wasn't surprising given the paucity of talent on display (we wanted Glastonbury, they gave us the V Festival), but it's still notable that it was Boris Johnson, rather than any of the performers, who received the biggest cheer at last night's Olympics closing ceremony. The Games began with thousands chanting "Boris! Boris!" in Hyde Park, they ended with them roaring at the mere mention of his name in Stratford. It's hard to think of any other politician who could enjoy such a reception because, put simply, there isn't one.

Some will argue that this reflects the executive weakness of the Mayor's office. He's not a leader, he's a mascot. But Ken Livingstone never enjoyed such adoration and no alternative Labour (David Lammy?) or Conservative Mayor (Seb Coe?) would. The result is that Boris is now spoken of as a potential prime minister by both the left and the right, and viewed as an increasing threat by Labour.

Over the same period, for the first time since David Cameron became Prime Minister, conservative commentators have begun to question whether he will last until the election. He will, of course, but the mere posing of the question, just two years into his premiership, is an indictment of his leadership. Unsurprisingly, then, Cameron is increasingly unsettled by the Tories' prince across the Thames. In his final comments before he departed for his Mediterranean holiday, he pointedly noted that Boris had "some huge challenges to meet across the capital in his second term". Elsewhere, he stated: "I’m delighted that my party has so many big hitters. I’ve got the opposite of tall poppy syndrome." But even if that were true (with the possible exception of Ken Clarke, one searches in vain for a "big hitter" on the frontbench), Cameron would be forced to concede that there is no bigger hitter than Boris.

The danger for the Mayor, perhaps, is that he has peaked too soon. Will his brand of bonhomie be tired by 2015? I suspect not, and the Olympics will be remembered as the moment that the Tories (to their joy) and Labour (to its terror) realised as much.

The Olympic Flag is handed from Mayor of London, Boris Johnson to IOC President Jacques Rogge. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The government needs more on airports than just Chris Grayling's hunch

This disastrous plan to expand Heathrow will fail, vows Tom Brake. 

I ought to stop being surprised by Theresa May’s decision making. After all, in her short time as Prime Minister she has made a series of terrible decisions. First, we had Chief Buffoon, Boris Johnson appointed as Foreign Secretary to represent the United Kingdom around the world. Then May, announced full steam ahead with the most extreme version of Brexit, causing mass economic uncertainty before we’ve even begun negotiations with the EU. And now we have the announcement that expansion of Heathrow Airport, in the form of a third runway, will go ahead: a colossally expensive, environmentally disastrous, and ill-advised decision.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, I asked Transport Secretary Chris Grayling why the government is “disregarding widespread hostility and bulldozing through a third runway, which will inflict crippling noise, significant climate change effects, health-damaging air pollution and catastrophic congestion on a million Londoners.” His response was nothing more than “because we don’t believe it’s going to do those things.”

I find this astonishing. It appears that the government is proceeding with a multi-billion pound project with Grayling’s beliefs as evidence. Why does the government believe that a country of our size should focus on one major airport in an already overcrowded South East? Germany has multiple major airports, Spain three, the French, Italians, and Japanese have at least two. And I find it astonishing that the government is paying such little heed to our legal and moral environmental obligations.

One of my first acts as an MP nineteen years ago was to set out the Liberal Democrat opposition to the expansion of Heathrow or any airport in southeast England. The United Kingdom has a huge imbalance between the London and the South East, and the rest of the country. This imbalance is a serious issue which our government must get to work remedying. Unfortunately, the expansion of Heathrow does just the opposite - it further concentrates government spending and private investment on this overcrowded corner of the country.

Transport for London estimates that to make the necessary upgrades to transport links around Heathrow will be £10-£20 billion pounds. Heathrow airport is reportedly willing to pay only £1billion of those costs. Without upgrades to the Tube and rail links, the impact on London’s already clogged roads will be substantial. Any diversion of investment from improving TfL’s wider network to lines serving Heathrow would be catastrophic for the capital. And it will not be welcomed by Londoners who already face a daily ordeal of crowded tubes and traffic-delayed buses. In the unlikely event that the government agrees to fund this shortfall, this would be salt in the wound for the South-West, the North, and other parts of the country already deprived of funding for improved rail and road links.

Increased congestion in the capital will not only raise the collective blood pressure of Londoners, but will have severe detrimental effects on our already dire levels of air pollution. During each of the last ten years, air pollution levels have been breached at multiple sites around Heathrow. While a large proportion of this air pollution is caused by surface transport serving Heathrow, a third more planes arriving and departing adds yet more particulates to the air. Even without expansion, it is imperative that we work out how to clean this toxic air. Barrelling ahead without doing so is irresponsible, doing nothing but harm our planet and shorten the lives of those living in west London.

We need an innovative, forward-looking strategy. We need to make transferring to a train to Cardiff after a flight from Dubai as straightforward and simple as transferring to another flight is now. We need to invest in better rail links so travelling by train to the centre of Glasgow or Edinburgh is quicker than flying. Expanding Heathrow means missing our climate change targets is a certainty; it makes life a misery for those who live around the airport and it diverts precious Government spending from other more worthy projects.

The Prime Minister would be wise to heed her own advice to the 2008 government and “recognise widespread hostility to Heathrow expansion.” The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow is the wrong one and if she refuses to U-turn she will soon discover the true extent of the opposition to these plans.

Tom Brake is the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton & Wallington.