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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Martin Sorrell: I support a second EU referendum

If the economy is not in great shape after two years, public opinion on Brexit could yet shift, says the WPP head.

On Labour’s weakness, if you take the market economy analogy, if you don’t have vigorous competitors you have a monopoly. That’s not good for prices and certainly not for competition. It breeds inefficiency, apathy, complacency, even arrogance. That applies to politics too.

A new party? Maybe, but Tom Friedman has a view that parties have outlived their purpose and with the changes that have taken place through globalisation, and will do through automation, what’s necessary is for parties not to realign but for new organisations and new structures to be developed.

Britain leaving the EU with no deal is a strong possibility. A lot of observers believe that will be the case, that it’s too complex a thing to work out within two years. To extend it beyond two years you need 27 states to approve.

The other thing one has to bear in mind is what’s going to happen to the EU over the next two years. There’s the French event to come, the German event and the possibility of an Italian event: an election or a referendum. If Le Pen was to win or if Merkel couldn’t form a government or if the Renzi and Berlusconi coalition lost out to Cinque Stelle, it might be a very different story. I think the EU could absorb a Portuguese exit or a Greek exit, or maybe even both of them exiting, I don’t think either the euro or the EU could withstand an Italian exit, which if Cinque Stelle was in control you might well see.

Whatever you think the long-term result would be, and I think the UK would grow faster inside than outside, even if Britain were to be faster outside, to get to that point is going to take a long time. The odds are there will be a period of disruption over the next two years and beyond. If we have a hard exit, which I think is the most likely outcome, it could be quite unpleasant in the short to medium term.

Personally, I do support a second referendum. Richard Branson says so, Tony Blair says so. I think the odds are diminishing all the time and with the triggering of Article 50 it will take another lurch down. But if things don’t get well over the two years, if the economy is not in great shape, maybe there will be a Brexit check at the end.

Martin Sorrell is the chairman and chief executive of WPP.

As told to George Eaton.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition