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Heathrow: The Problem with British Democracy Exposed

A Vote in Favour of Heathrow

<img src=“rsz_heathrow_expansion.jpg” alt=“Departures at Heathrow” title=“Heathrow vote expansion”>











In the end, there wasn’t much of a contest in the votes for expansion of Heathrow.  Last night MPs voted 415 to 119 to go ahead with a third runway, but such a large vote in favour still doesn’t guarantee it will be built, and that’s partly down to our system of Government.

Those with long memories will recall that in 2009, MPs narrowly voted in favour of a third runway, only to see that kyboshed by the Coalition Government when it took power in 2010.  The Tories were then opposed to expansion, much as many of the Labour opposition are today, so there’s every chance that should a catastrophe befall the Prime Minister leading to Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, the whole thing could be called off once again.  Heathrow had better get digging.

The trouble with Heathrow has always been that MPs find it very difficult to cover their political behinds as they vote; underlying expedients always seem incredibly transparent.  Theresa May deleted commentary from her website suggesting she was opposed to expansion, and the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary were conveniently out of the country on business.  Corbyn couldn’t figure out how to please John McDonnell – whose constituency contains Heathrow – and assuage the Unions who really want to see it built.  And the SNP suddenly discovered they weren’t too keen on expansion after all, despite having been consistently in favour, because Tories and Brexit.  It might have been easier if nobody had needed to vote at all.

But why is this such a difficult topic?  In reality, it’s because there is another problem in our democracy.  Too many senior members of the Government and opposition have their constituencies in and around London.  The Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, the Health Secretary, and the Environment Secretary all have seats very close to Heathrow.  The Shadow Chancellor’s seat is Heathrow and there are plenty of members of the Government and Shadow Cabinet that sit under Heathrow’s flight path. 

Local decisions or national interests?

It does not make for a healthy democracy when too many of those governing the country represent a small portion of it, and exposes the difficult nature of the parliamentary system when local decisions overlap with national interests.  Members of the Government are made to choose between their MP hat and their Ministerial hat and it undermines trust in our democracy.  However there is one small chink of light in all this; it makes companies devise better plans that will suit as many people as it possibly can, knowing that MPs must be able to carry their constituents with them. Heathrow is a first rate airport because of this, likely only to increase its global regard when the third runway is built.

Interested in this issue? Read Micheal’s previous thoughts on the vote here.