Labour conference showed the party is currently split into three significant factions
Labour conference showed the party is currently split into three significant factions. There’s the shadow cabinet in exile, featuring the likes of former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna and ex-shadow communities secretary Emma Reynolds ± class acts who are watching despairingly from the sidelines.
Then there are those within Jeremy Corbyn’s top team, such as housing shadow John Healey and shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, who are serving for party unity and that alone. Finally there are the die-hard supporters, such as new energy spokesman Clive Lewis, and those who are willing to follow, such as shadow chief secretary to the treasury Seema Malhotra, who backed Yvette Cooper in the leadership election.
The government has given itself to the end of the year to decide whether to endorse the Airports Commission’s recommendation for a third runway at Heathrow
Seemingly all on his own is the unassuming Richard Burden, a decent man who has plugged away at challenging road agency privatisation plans in recent years. His brief has been expanded to cover aviation, which leaves the Birmingham Northfield MP with the rather unenviable job of working out whether the party should back expansion at either or neither of Heathrow or Gatwick.
The government has given itself to the end of the year to decide whether to endorse the Airports Commission’s recommendation for a third runway at Heathrow or opting for a second at Gatwick. Burden says he will judge Labour’s response by challenging the government’s decision by four tests: whether expansion addresses capacity constraints, the impact on the UK’s climate change obligation, meeting local air quality and noise standards, and whether the chosen option benefits the whole country and not just the South-east.
In short, Burden is concerned that the Airports Commission was not given suitable terms of reference, so he feels obliged to set his own tests. They are significant challenges, particularly on pollution levels for Heathrow (though John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, told me at the Conservative conference that it would pass all four tests) and boosting the rest of the nation for Gatwick.
Cross-party support for whichever option the government chooses now looks unlikely.
Mark Leftly is political correspondent at The Independent on Sunday and associate business editor across The Independent and London Evening Standard Titles