Today’s impressive rally against Heathrow expansion, organized by Zac Goldsmith MP, demonstrated the formidable forces that are massing once again to prevent expansion of the airport. It will have given Heathrow Airport and their allies who want a third runway considerable pause for thought. In the space of 40 minutes 15 leading politicians from right across the political spectrum lined up to speak. They included the Mayor of London and two cabinet ministers, Justine Greening and Ed Davey. And many more politicians wanted to speak but had to be turned away.
Airport expansion – like every major decision – will be a political one. And the politics are moving away from Heathrow. Politicians of all parties are putting Heathrow expansion in the “too difficult” box. The Liberal Democrats are firmly opposed. The Labour Party, under Ed Miliband and shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle, has made it clear it no longer supports expansion. There is a powerful lobby within the Conservative Party which is urging the Party to rule out expansion for good. The London Assembly and the Mayor are united in their opposition to it.
Look around the cabinet table: the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Home Secretary Theresa May, the Secretaries of State for the Environment, International Development and Northern Ireland, Ed Davey, Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond are all known opponents.
This is a far cry from the opposition being confined to local authorities, local residents and environmental groups. Heathrow has become a London-wide, indeed a national issue, a national issue where politicians know there are votes and seats to be won and lost, where they are so aware of what happened to the last Labour Government’s attempt to expand Heathrow.
Astute people within the aviation industry like Willie Walsh, in charge of British Airways, have made their view clear that the tide has turned against Heathrow expansion. Today’s rally re-enforced that message.