Boris declares "we're not dead yet" - but his aviation policy soon will be

The mayor's proposal of a new airport in the Thames Estuary has merely been given a stay of execution by the Airports Commission. Heathrow is the frontrunner again.

After the Airports Commission all but sunk Boris Island, the mayor sought to put the best possible gloss on the situation during his interview on the Today programme, declaring: "we're not dead yet, I think that's the good news."

Not dead yet, but certainly in the intensive care ward. In its interim report, the commission warned that Johnson's proposal of a new airport in the Thames Estuary would be "extremely expensive", would "present major environmental issues" and would have "uncertain" economic impacts. 

The mayor contested these conclusions, insisting that his policy would not cost "anywhere near as much as he's [Howard Davies] saying" and that he could secure significant "international investment". He described the idea of a third runway at Heathrow as "completely crackers", warning that it would be "catastrophic for London and for quality of life" and would "consign millions of people to noise pollution". 

But he conceded that Heathrow was the likeliest candidate for expansion, noting that while another runway at Gatwick would be "the least injurious" option, it would not deliver the "competitiveness boost" required since "the airlines will still want to go to Heathrow". 

Asked how he would respond if the commission definitively rejected Boris Island next year (in a  separate study) and if David Cameron pledged to support its final recommendation (due in summer 2015), he refused to accept that "hypothesis" but added that it would be a "grievous error" and "the wrong thing for the party". He ended: "I believe in going on and winning fights, rather than flouncing out" but, on this occasion, his struggle will almost certainly end in defeat. 

After all parties rejected the option of a third runway after the 2010 general election, the policy has made a remarkable comeback. But since both David Cameron (who declared in 2009: "the third runway at Heathrow is not going ahead, no ifs, no buts") and Ed Miliband (who nearly resigned as energy secretary in the last government over the issue) have a mutual interest in avoiding the subject, expect all parties to maintain a conspiracy of silence throughout the campaign. 

Boris Johnson said it would building a third Heathrow runway would be a "grievous error" and "the wrong thing for the party". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.