Labour denies Heathrow third runway U-turn - but there has been a shift

Having threatened to resign from the last Labour government over the project, Miliband is now merely "sceptical".

Labour is denying that there has been any change in its stance on a third runway at Heathrow after the FT reported that Ed Miliband had "abandoned his implacable opposition". A party source told The Staggers: 

FT suggestion Labour changing position on Heathrow is wrong. Position unchanged. Ed sceptical. We await Davies [Airports Commission]. 

But while the party is some way from endorsing the project, which will be one of those shortlisted by the Airports Commission (chaired by Howard Davies) in its interim report next week, a shift has unmistakably taken place. 

When Miliband won the Labour leadership in 2010, having threatened to resign as Energy Secretary over the issue during the last government, he made it official party policy to oppose a third runway. As then shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said in 2011: "The answer for the south-east is not going to be to fall back on the proposed third runway at Heathrow. The local environmental impact means that this is off the agenda." Yet now Miliband is merely said to be "sceptical". In the recent reshuffle, Eagle, a strong opponent of a third runway and a strong supporter of HS2, was replaced with Mary Creagh, who has adopted a neutral stance on the Davies Commission. She said recently: "No party can say now that it will implement its recommendations when we simply don't know what the costs of any proposals will be. Obviously the Conservatives and Lib Dems haven't made any such commitments."

This shift is, among other things, a victory for Ed Balls. We know that the shadow chancellor favours a third runway because he's told us. As I noted earlier this year, asked in the "quick fire" section of a Times interview whether he favoured a "third runway or HS2", he replied: "third runway". That Miliband is now willing to consider a third runway shows how the gap between them has narrowed since they were in government together.

As Damian McBride recalled in his memoir: "The first time I ever heard Balls say anything remotely negative about Miliband was at the end of 2008, when the latter effectively threatened to resign from the Cabinet if a decision was made to build a third runway at Heathrow.

"Balls was genuinely outraged that Miliband could ignore the need to expand airport capacity just for the sake of his reputation with the green lobby and his own political positioning."

A protest sign is displayed in the village of Sipson, which would be demolished should a third runway be built at Heathrow Airport. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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