It was a momentous result. It was the victory against all the odds. No one expected the coalition of local residents, environmentalists, direct action activists, local authorities and sympathetic politicians to pull it off. Except perhaps ourselves. In the latter months of the decade-long campaign to stop a third runway at Heathrow Airport we sensed we were on the verge of a famous victory. And so it proved. The Government of the day and the aviation industry failed to get what they wanted above all else: a third runway at the UK’s only truly international airport.
However, industry and business when the want something badly enough don’t usually take no for an answer. Within two years they had regrouped and persuaded the current government to look again at a third runway. It is not yet Government policy to build it but it may become so.
So how do campaigners fight a battle a second time round?
Firstly, by being fully aware, even in the moment of victory, that business has the money and motivation to bide its time and will strike again. Let go of the daily round of campaigning but never let your guard down.
Secondly, from day one after the victory party (and always have one) remind the powers-that-be again and again that you won last time round. We were the Andy Murray and they the Novak Djokovic. These reminders put pressure on them and pep up your supporters. The worst attitude to adopt is that ‘it’s only a matter of time before they win’. Because that way they will win!
Thirdly, when they do come back, remember why you were successful last time. Do those things again! But won’t the campaigners be worn-out? That’s the tactic of big business. To grind people down. But what we are finding at Heathrow is that, although there is a sense of déjà vu, we are in a much better place than when we started out 13 years ago. Then we hardly knew each other and lacked the confidence we could win. Now we are a confident, united team knowing we conquered the highest of mountain peaks.
Finally, always remember, although business will come back, they are unlikely to do so forever. Business needs certainty in which to operate. If there is forever uncertainty about a project, they will move on. It is generally recognized that business won’t hang around if a third runway is knocked back again. We just have to climb that mountain one more time. Come on, Andy!