Boris deepens his struggle against a third Heathrow runway

Mayor of London tells supporters of a third runway: "you're completely wrong, you will be defeated".

As the government-commissioned Davies report into aviaition capacity is officially launched, Boris Johnson has just used an appearance on the Today programme to deepen his struggle against a third runway at Heathrow. To supporters of the proposal, which Howard Davies's commission will consider, the Mayor of London declared: "you're completely wrong, you will be defeated."

Observing that almost every politician in London was elected on a mandate to rule out a third runway, he said it would be "politically toxic ... it will go down incredibly badly in London, it will lead to a significant erosion of the quality of life for the people in London." The problem with a third runway, he argued, is that a fourth would be soon be needed - and where would that go? He went on: "The runway at Heathrow simply will not happen ... There is absolutely no need for us to delay to 2015. Can I tell you, in the next nine years, how many runways they’re going to build in China? They’re going to build 52. How many in the UK? None at all. It is a policy of utter inertia."

The aim of the Davies report, as with most government inquiries, is to achieve a political consensus. But with Boris unequivocally opposed to a third runway (the preferred option of several senior ministers, including George Osborne) Labour sceptical (Ed Miliband almost resigned from the Brown government over the policy), and the Lib Dems opposed to any new runways at London's airports as well as "Boris island", there seems little prospect of that. Rarely has an inquiry been so undermined before it has even begun.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said a third runway at Heathrow would be "a complete disaster for the people of London". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Does it matter that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group?

Well yes, a little.

“#WESTMINSTERBUBBLE JOURNOS CHAT ON #WHATSAPP. NOW THAT’S INTERESTING,” writes the alt-left site Skwawkbox.

Its story refers to the fact that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group chat. The site finds this sinister, suggesting the chat could be used to “swap info, co-ordinate stories and narratives”:

“It’s a technology that worries Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in case terrorists use it – but its use by the Establishment for 1984-style message co-ordination would worry many people just as much.”

Skwawkbox’s shock was mocked by lobby journalists and spinners:


Your mole, who has sniffed around the lobby in its day, also finds the suggestion of journalists using the app for terrorist-style collusion a little hard to swallow. Like every other industry, journos are using WhatsApp because it’s the latest easy technology to have group chats on – and it’s less risky than bitching and whining in a Twitter DM thread, or on email, which your employers can access.

But my fellow moles in the Skwawkbox burrow have hit on something, even if they’ve hyped it up with the language of conspiracy. There is a problem with the way lobby journalists of different publications decide what the top lines of stories are every day, having been to the same briefings, and had the same chats.

It’s not that there’s a secret shady agreement to take a particular line about a certain party or individual – it’s that working together in such an environment fosters groupthink. They ask questions of government and opposition spokespeople as a group, they dismiss their responses as a group, and they decide the real story as a group.

As your mole’s former colleague Rafael Behr wrote in 2012:

“At the end [of a briefing], the assembled hacks feel they have established some underlying truth about what really happened, which, in the arch idiom of the trade, is generally agreed to have been revealed in what wasn’t said.”

Plus, filing a different story to what all your fellow reporters at rival papers have written could get you in trouble with your editor. The columnist David Aaronovitch wrote a piece in 2002, entitled “The lobby system poisons political journalism”, arguing that rather than pursuing new stories, often this ends up with lobby journalists repeating the same line:

“They display a "rush to story", in which they create between them an orthodoxy about a story – which then becomes impossible to dislodge.”

This tendency for stories to become stifled even led to the Independent and others boycotting the lobby in the Eighties, he notes.

Of course, colleagues in all industries have always communicated for work, social and organisational reasons in some way, and using WhatsApp is no different. But while Skwawkbox’s “revelation” might seem laughable to insiders, most people don’t know how political journalism works behind-the-scenes. It touches on a truth about how Westminster journalists operate – even if it’s wrong about their motive.

I'm a mole, innit.