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.

BBC screengrab
Show Hide image

Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it did – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.