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WESTMINSTER WATCH GARETH MORGAN


SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT


As the runway debate enters a new phase, battle lines are being drawn


great runway saga, it is still very much about the ‘south wests’: south-west London is trying to ensure that Heathrow is mothballed; while south- west England is struggling to ensure it gets the green light. This has been characterised by furious internal lobbying taking place within the Conservative Party. Both south wests are electorally important. The Liberal Democrat performance in 2015’s general election was, in large part, due to their dominance in these areas being demolished. South-west London, once the impregnable


F


ollowing the government’s confirmation of a further delay in the


stomping ground of former Cabinet members Sir Vince Cable and Ed Davey, saw the Liberal Democrats lose Twickenham, Kingston and Surbiton, and Sutton and Cheam, and come close to being kicked out of their final seat in London, Carshalton and Wallington.


Things look even starker when you look at the south west of England. Once the party’s strongest region, there is now not a single Liberal Democrat MP from one end of the south west to the other, after 15 MPs fell in a single night, 14 of these going to their former Coalition partners. If the three wins in south- west London were important then the gains in south-west


England were absolutely critical – and the MPs from that region are making sure that the PM doesn’t forget that.


Speak to some of these MPs and for them it is simple arithmetic – their 14 new MPs added to the 20 or so MPs already in situ means that they make up around 10 per cent of the parliamentary party. In a government with such a slim majority, that is clearly important. In that case, why should the needs of their constituents be subsumed beneath those in London, regardless of how well connected they are?


In the shape of Dr Liam Fox MP (North Somerset) they have a formidable leader. The former defence secretary and 2005 leadership contender knows the value of his caucus and it is no surprise that in the lead up to the response to Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission report, we saw a private letter signed by 30 south-west MPs sent to the prime minister urging him to support the findings of the Commission, and a lunch between those MPs and David Cameron, when they made their case directly.


Hot topic: an artist’s impression of Heathrow airport with a new runway


Luckily for anti-Heathrow- expansion London Conservatives, it isn’t just about the arithmetic – it’s about who can shout loudest and, crucially, the forthcoming mayoral election. Those MPs in south- west London include some big beasts, including Boris Johnson and Justine Greening. But it’s the Conservative candidate for London mayor,


48 BBT JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016


The Tory gains in south west England were absolutely critical


maverick MP Zac Goldsmith, causing most concern in No 10. His absolute opposition to Heathrow means he will resign his MP position and trigger a by-election (one that could see the Liberal Democrats challenge for their former seat) should the government back an expanded Heathrow. This adds another dynamic to the London mayoral race – but one that’s been offset by the government’s ploy to delay a decision on runway expansion until later this year. With all the major candidates opposed to Heathrow, a pre-election announcement of Heathrow expansion would’ve been pretty toxic in a contest the Conservatives are desperate to win. The government’s delaying tactic, widely criticised by travel and business organisations, followed news that general election campaign supremo Lynton Crosby is back on board for Zac’s campaign. So it seems we’ll see much happening in the coming months – apart from a decision.


Gareth Morgan is a political lobbyist and director with Cavendish Communications (www.cavendishpc.co.uk). He is an advisor to the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC).


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