Blog by John Stewart
It may be a first. I certainly can’t recall any previous occasion when voters have taken direct action in an attempt to influence a cabinet reshuffle. Reshuffles are usually of less interest to most people than the football results of the Scottish third division. (I’m an exception to that incidentally having watching my parent’s home team Ross County move from the lowest tier of Scottish football to a proud fourth in the premier division).
However, David Cameron’s reshuffle is different. And all because of one woman: the Transport Secretary Justine Greening. West London residents have taken to posting ‘I’m backing Justine’ stickers all over the underground – see report in the Evening Standard: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/poster-battle-to-save-greening-from-reshuffle-8078787.html. The fact that residents are going to this length – and are now calling for a demonstration in favour of the Transport Secretary – shows the strength of support there is for her and for her stance on a third runway.
Justine Greening must be the first member of any Cabinet to be under threat because she is supporting Government policy. But the aviation industry has been gunning for her from day one. Her position was untenable, its representatives argued, because of her well-known opposition to Heathrow expansion and because her Putney constituency was under the flight path. Just like the Egham constituency of her predecessor, Philip Hammond. But the industry never raised that as a problem.
The current argument that the industry and its friends in business and the media use is that she must go because she is a block to a sane discussion about future aviation policy which must include the option of a 3rd runway. What actually bugs them is that the debate about a 3rd runway has been had and they lost it. What bugs them even more is that there are three ministers at the Department for Transport – Justine Greening, Theresa Villiers and the Liberal Democrat Norman Baker – who are independent-minded and not in the pocket of the aviation industry.
As Chair of HACAN, I know these ministers have changed the department. The previous “collusion” with the aviation industry – ironically exposed by Justine Greening when she was in opposition http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Test/politics/article82312.ece – has been replaced by a serious debate about future aviation policy which includes environmental organizations and residents’ groups as well as the aviation industry.
And that brings us to Alastair Darling….and Labour’s Transport Secretary Maria Eagle. When I read in today’s Independent on Sunday that Darling was still supporting a third runway – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/darling-defies-miliband-over-third-heathrow-runway-8081429.html – I had to remind myself that he was once Secretary of State for Transport. I just don’t recall anything he did. He certainly didn’t attempt to shake the Department for Transport out of its bias towards the aviation industry. Somehow it is difficult to imagine an ‘I’m backing Darling’ campaign.
With the backing of Ed Miliband, Labour’s current shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle has reversed Labour’s backing for a third runway. I’m not too sure either of them would thank me for saying this but I see real similarities between Justine Greening and Maria Eagle. Both are straight-talking, no-nonsense northern women, educated in comprehensive schools. Both are more interested in developing serious, evidence-based polices than giving into the demands of interest-based groups. Both value practical results above empty rhetoric. That’s why I backing Justine….and Maria.