This splurge of money on a folly will lead to the perfect political fudge for Johnson. Photo: Getty
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Boris Johnson owes Londoners an apology for wasting public money over airport folly

The Thames estuary airport idea has been rejected; the Mayor of London wasted £5.2m on lobbying for it.

As expected, the Airports Commission yesterday put the Mayor of London's pet project, a Thames Estuary airport, out of its misery and definitively ruled the proposal off its final shortlist. While this came as no surprise, the decision throws up considerable ramifications politically and for London taxpayers. 

While hundreds of column inches have been dedicated to the impact of the decision, it is worth remembering the context in which Boris Johnson has pursued this vanity project. The Mayor first launched his brainchild in 2011, and architects' impressions of the airport have adorned newspaper pages ever since. Less reported, however, was the fact that none of the major players in the aviation industry ever got behind the proposal, nor did the local council, or other national politicians and experts, leaving Boris to act as the solitary cheerleader for the plans.

The inclusion of the estuary option in Davies’ interim report in December gave the proposal a temporary stay of execution, but resulted in a period of in-depth examination which led to four independent reports exposing major flaws with the proposal. These reports pointed to the huge environmental, financial and safety risks associated with the plans, with a headline £120bn price tag – the equivalent of building another eight Crossrails. This led Politics.co.uk to describe the scrutiny as "the final nail in the coffin" of an estuary airport".

In this light, then, the Mayor's decision – just weeks earlier – to sign off an extra £2m worth of expenditure on lobbying for his plans, showed tremendous chutzpah. Indeed, the extension of this allocated funding took the total envelope for the Mayor's lobbying exercise to £5.2m. At a time when any form of support for his proposals was sorely lacking and with the writing quite obviously on the wall Boris should not have been throwing good money after bad on further support for the plans.

On learning that the whole exercise has cost up to £5.2m, one is left with the sour taste that Boris probably knew the scheme was doomed to fail from an early stage, but ploughed on regardless because of the platform it gave him as a mainstream political figure. It has allowed him to posture as a blue-sky thinker when realistically his proposal never had a chance of solving the conundrum of airport capacity in the south east.

Whilst the Mayor continues to celebrate his doomed Estuary Airport, I think Boris Johnson owes Londoners an apology. In the time that he has splurged £5.2m of taxpayers’ money, Londoners have suffered years of inflation-busting fare rises, seen ten fire stations closed and now face plans for 900 jobs cuts on the London Underground.

What is more, instead of accepting the Commission’s decision yesterday with dignity, Boris had the audacity to come out fighting, saying that he would continue to lobby for an estuary airport as the long term solution. In light of the waste of taxpayers’ money I have written to TfL to ask if it will prevent Boris from spending any more public funds in support of an estuary airport now that it has officially and firmly been ruled off the Commission’s shortlist.      

What hasn’t escaped the attention of politicos is the fact that yesterday’s decision might actually work in Boris’ favour. If Boris gives up the ghost and accepts that the estuary option is dead (as he may or may not do), it means that he no is longer left advocating the closure of Heathrow– a major local employer in Uxbridge – and the demolition of west London’s economy. 

He can now oppose further expansion at Heathrow, but support its current operations – the perfect political fudge for an incoming candidate. What he cannot escape though, is the waste of £5m of valuable public funds – something he should now apologise for.

Val Shawcross AM is London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark and transport spokeswoman for the London Assembly Labour Group

Val Shawcross is transport spokeswoman for the London Assembly Labour Group 

Photo: Getty
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Emmanuel Macron can win - but so can Marine Le Pen

Macron is the frontrunner, but he remains vulnerable to an upset. 

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is campaigning in the sixth largest French city aka London today. He’s feeling buoyed by polls showing not only that he is consolidating his second place but that the voters who have put him there are increasingly comfortable in their choice

But he’ll also be getting nervous that those same polls show Marine Le Pen increasing her second round performance a little against both him and François Fillon, the troubled centre-right candidate. Her slight increase, coming off the back of riots after the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man and Macron’s critical comments about the French empire in Algeria is a reminder of two things: firstly the potential for domestic crisis or terror attack to hand Le Pen a late and decisive advantage.  Secondly that Macron has not been doing politics all that long and the chance of a late implosion on his part cannot be ruled out either.

That many of his voters are former supporters of either Fillon or the Socialist Party “on holiday” means that he is vulnerable should Fillon discover a sense of shame – highly unlikely but not impossible either – and quit in favour of a centre-right candidate not mired in scandal. And if Benoît Hamon does a deal with Jean-Luc Mélenchon – slightly more likely that Fillon developing a sense of shame but still unlikely – then he could be shut out of the second round entirely.

What does that all mean? As far as Britain is concerned, a Macron or Fillon presidency means the same thing: a French government that will not be keen on an easy exit for the UK and one that is considerably less anti-Russian than François Hollande’s. But the real disruption may be in the PR battle as far as who gets the blame if Theresa May muffs Brexit is concerned.

As I’ve written before, the PM doesn’t like to feed the beast as far as the British news cycle and the press is concerned. She hasn’t cultivated many friends in the press and much of the traditional rightwing echo chamber, from the press to big business, is hostile to her. While Labour is led from its leftmost flank, that doesn’t much matter. But if in the blame game for Brexit, May is facing against an attractive, international centrist who shares much of the prejudices of May’s British critics, the hope that the blame for a bad deal will be placed solely on the shoulders of the EU27 may turn out to be a thin hope indeed.

Implausible? Don’t forget that people already think that Germany is led by a tough operator who gets what she wants, and think less of David Cameron for being regularly outmanoeuvered by her – at least, that’s how they see it. Don’t rule out difficulties for May if she is seen to be victim to the same thing from a resurgent France.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.