Westminster Watch: Heathrow views

Where do potential new Tory leaders stand on the expansion of Heathrow airport, asks political lobbyist Gareth Morgan?

There is a distinct lack of momentum in government at present. Theresa May’s authority is diminished, No.10 has been weakened by the exit of a swathe of advisers, the domestic agenda is thin following the binning of the Conservative manifesto, and the Cabinet is pulling apart over Brexit.

In many ways it is only the fear of another general election that has stopped people pulling the trigger on a leadership election.

The leadership talk hasn’t gone away though, but it has taken on a different hue – namely whether a change in leadership should skip a generation. The idea of David Davis or Boris Johnson taking over doesn’t inspire enthusiasm and there are suggestions that they need a “clean skin”.

So around about the time Heathrow expansion passes through its final political hurdles (the legal ones are yet to come) we could see a new team at the top. Who are they? And where do they stand on this key issue?

•             James Cleverly MP: A well-liked, clubbable, former forces man who was a key lieutenant to Boris in City Hall. He was in the past a committed proponent of Boris Island but will support Heathrow’s expansion now – albeit while pointing out that the UK will need more than one runway in the medium term.

•             Tom Tugendhat MP: Another ex-Army man who toured Afghanistan and Iraq in his decade of service. He has found his first notable position as chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. He is one of the ‘Gatwick 9’ MPs, drawn from constituencies in its vicinity to oppose its expansion and consequently a big supporter of Heathrow’s third runway.

•             George Freeman MP: A leading figure on the Tory left, he was looked over for a ministerial job under Theresa May and instead given the role of chair of No.10’s Policy Board. He was on May’s team when Heathrow got government support.

•             Jacob Rees-Mogg MP: The Brexit pin-up boy and a politician dubbed the ‘Corbyn of the right’. Rees-Mogg is a pragmatist on Heathrow, which is, in his words “the most convenient airport in London” and essential for a country seeking to trade beyond the EU.

•             Priti Patel MP: A member of the Cabinet but not tainted like some colleagues, she is on the right of the party, an ardent Leaver and very pro-business. Patel held senior corporate roles before getting into politics and was a frequent user of Heathrow, which she says is an “economic hub, not just for London and the South East but our country”.

•             Dominic Raab MP: Another Leave icon in a difficult position on Heathrow. His constituency, Esher and Walton, is affected by flight paths and noise but he has been forthright in his belief that the airport is important to the local economy and British competitiveness.

Keep an eye on these names and note how much you see them in the media, and how many fringe meetings they speak at during the Conservative party conference. The more you see of them, the more they are wanting to be seen.

Gareth Morgan is a political lobbyist and director with Cavendish Communications. He is an adviser to the GTMC.

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