Running for re-election as London Mayor in May, Boris Johnson is playing a dangerous game by threatening to veto the proposed third runway at Heathrow. The Tories had previously ruled out the possibility of an expansion at Heathrow in their 2010 manifesto but lobbying by both domestic and foreign business interests has put the controversial issue back on the agenda in this year’s budget.
Johnson has consistently portrayed himself as a green-friendly mayor and has vowed to reject a new runway on the grounds of the pollution it would cause over West London. Instead he has reiterated his support for a new airport on the Thames Estuary. In doing so he is at risk of losing support from many in the capital, especially considering the current economic climate. An expansion of Heathrow would be a cheaper and more effective answer to the clear need to increase Britain’s airport capacity in the Southeast, which is being aggressively challenged on the continent. The question is adding more strain to the coalition partnership, since the Liberal-Democrats had previously promised to oppose a capacity increase at Heathrow.
With the mayoral election looming, Boris needs to assess the kind of message he wants to put to voters. Pledges made by former mayor and Labour candidate Ken Livingston to make London more ‘New York-esque’, based around an increased independence from the rest of the country, may appeal to those worried about the capital’s competitiveness on the world stage. Boris may be playing into the hands of his opponent by seeming to not put London’s needs as seriously.