Why airport expansion will be the tuition fees of 2015

As in 2010, both the Tories and Labour will promise to study the post-election report, rather than telling us where they stand.

The Airports Commission has published its interim report, with Heathrow the clear favourite for expansion (either in the form of a new runway or an extended one), but it won't deliver its final recommendations until after the general election in summer 2015.

For all of the main parties, this is remarkably convenient. 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 over the issue and opposed a third Heathrow runway after becoming Labour leader) can bat away questions about aviation expansion during the election campaign by stating that no decision will be taken until after the final report has been delivered. 

This conspiracy of silence is reminiscent of that over tuition fees in 2010. Both Labour and the Tories knew the review of university funding chaired by Lord Browne would propose an increase in fees (and that they would support it) but it suited them to avoid acknowledging as much. Neither party outlined a position on tuition fees, with both merely stating that they would respond to Browne's report. Labour said in its manifesto: 

The review of higher education funding chaired by Lord Browne will report later this year. Our aim is to continue the expansion of higher education, widening access still further, while ensuring that universities and colleges have a secure, long-term funding base that protects world-class standards in teaching and research.
And the Tories said:
[We will] consider carefully the results of Lord Browne’s review into the future of higher education funding, so that we can unlock the potential of universities to transform our economy, to enrich students’ lives through teaching of the highest quality, and to advance scholarship
They will almost certainly take a similar line in 2015 on aviation expansion. 
As for the Lib Dems, as in the case of tuition fees, they are likely to oppose expansion on environmental grounds, but will come under strong pressure to abandon this position in any coalition negotiations. It really is 2010 all over again. 
A protest sign is displayed in the village of Sipson, which would be demolished should a third runway be built, near Heathrow Airport. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage