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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.

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.

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.