Boris raises the stakes in his war with Cameron

Mayor of London establishes rival inquiry into airport capacity after rejecting third runway as "simply mad".

After his open criticism of David Cameron's cabinet reshuffle and his ill-disguised interest in an early Commons comeback, Boris Johnson's decision to establish his own review into airport capacity represents a further escalation of tensions with Downing Street. Unlike the government's inquiry, which he memorably dismissed as a "fudgerama", Boris's review will explicitly exclude the option of a third runway and is expected to take nine months, reporting two years earlier than Cameron's.

The line from the Mayor's camp is that the inquiry is not "a rival" to the government's, rather it is designed to "inform" it. But Boris's motive is clear. Aware that the government cannot break its pledge not to build a third runway before 2015, he will attempt to assemble a powerful coalition of support for his preferred option of a new airport in the Thames estuary ("Boris Island") on which work could begin immediately.

Meanwhile, the Mayor has unsurprisingly dismissed claims that Zac Goldsmith offered to stand down for him if the government breaks its Heathrow pledge (Goldsmith has repeatedly warned that he is prepared to trigger a by-election), stating: "I've said, as I said in the election about a billion times, being mayor is the best job in British politics and it's what I want to do."

But, as you will have noticed, Boris's choice of words doesn't explicitly preclude the possibility of his standing in a by-election. It's worth remembering that after the 2000 London mayoral election, Ken Livingstone remained the MP for Brent East until 2001. There is no constitutional obstacle to Boris similarly combining the two roles.

Boris Johnson has said it would be "simply mad" to build a third runway at Heathrow airport. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.