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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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