Alex Hilton: Number 10 forgets its media strategy

The expansion of Heathrow Airport has been described in the media as 'Gordon's Poll Tax', which sounds an excessive accusation.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

But the decision to go ahead with a third runway has now triggered the resignation from government of west London Labour MP Andy Slaughter, and more resignations may be in the pipeline. With celebs buying token tracts of land for publicity stunts, one has to ask why the Government thought it was worth it.

Heathrow expansion is without doubt the right thing for Britain, but the difficulty lies in balancing the benefit to the country against the harm to local people and to the environment. With an election less than 18 months away, why did the decision have to be made at all? In true Yes Minister style, the Government could have held a public inquiry, a Royal Commission, set up a task force to look at the impact or commissioned a report on the British aviation sector.

This was ripe for kicking into the long grass. There were a dozen ways it could have been done; yet the Government still chose to go ahead.

There could be a strategy to this. By going ahead now, the Government has forced the Conservatives to oppose it. Labour can credibly say to the voters it is taking tough, unpopular decisions for the good of the country while the Tories are merely chasing headlines.

That might be the strategy, but I’m not certain Number 10 has thought about it that way. If it had, then surely it would be a theme across government departments with other contentious issues. Ed Miliband would be fast-tracking the building of new nuclear power stations. Hazel Blears would be changing planning rules to presume consent for rooftop solar panels and microturbines.

Yet I suspect the reality is more simple. Maybe the new Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has taken this on to bolster his importance in the cabinet. But more likely, I think perhaps the Government has gone native. It and the civil service are so busy running the country that they might just have forgotten the politics.

 

Alex Hilton is a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of political blogs Labourhome and Recess Monkey

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