Will Labour gain from taking the tough decisions?
So we are finally going to get a decision? Today Geoff Hoon will announce in the commons that the controversial Â£9bn plan to build a third runway at Heathrow is to go ahead.
For those trying to predict the outcome of the general election the question now is whether this will be a plus for Labour or not.
Will Brown’s party gain the benefit for having the foresight and resolve for agreeing to this massive plan or will it end up as a negative in electoral terms?
The arguments on either side are strong and there is a big divide between the main parties. For there’s little doubt that London’s position as one of the leading international financial centres is very much dependent on good communications and the argument goes that expansion at Heathrow is vital to preserve this.
The go-ahead also comes at a time when huge projects such as this can be seen as way of boosting the economy – and no doubt that will be forcefully put in the coming months and years.
But the opposing arguments are just as strong. Why is the country investing in air travel when global warming is supposed to be a pivotal issue? Was there a better solution than committing more resource to an airport location that was, it will be said, appallingly located in the first place? Why not something totally new, where there are less environmental objections and fewer people will be affected?
There’s been much focus on the impact on the Labour marginals is West London – will those now be more vulnerable with the plan going ahead?
But how is all this investment in London going to go down in the medium-sized English towns where, as we were arguing again yesterday, a large proportion of the LAB>CON battlegrounds are located? Every small cut in public services in those places there is going to be contrasted with the Â£9bn at Heathrow.
On the immediate political front the noise today will be that there’s hasn’t been a commons vote – something that Brown ruled out at PMQs yesterday. Labour is not unified on this. Heathrow is located in the constituency of John McDonnell – the man who tried to run against Brown for the leadership in 2007 but was thwarted when he could not get enough nominations. He’s highly articulate, performs well on TV and is no friend of Gordon Brown’s – expect to see a lot of him.
My view is that in the long-term Labour will be seen to have made the right decision but it could pay a political price in the short-term.