Business secretary Vince Cable is expected to emerge as the figurehead of opposition to building a third runway at Heathrow.
The Liberal Democrat MP plans to appear as the main speaker at rally in London tomorrow (Tuesday) opposing expansion of the airport, sharply raising the profile of the party’s anti-Heathrow policy, the Financial Times reported.
The rally, staged by campaign group Hacan, will also feature Green party leader Natalie Bennett and former Conservative transport minister Steve Norris.
The business secretary — who will appear as a constituency MP rather than in a ministerial role — is fighting a concerted push by the Tories in his seat of Twickenham, where the third runway is unpopular with voters.
The decision raises questions about whether the Liberal Democrats may end up performing another U-turn on the scale of their about-turn on university tuition fees if they form part of the next government, according to the FT.
Party leader Nick Clegg and Cable agreed early in the life of the coalition to increase student fees, breaking a big pre-election promise. Now some MPs fear the Lib Dems’ aviation policy could turn into a similar hostage to fortune after the May election.
Party aides will not say whether or not opposition to Heathrow is a “red line” that could not be breached if the Lib Dems form part of the next government.
That means that if the Lib Dems do form a coalition with either the Tories or Labour they might have to drop their aviation policy under pressure from their larger partner.
Neither of the two large parties have yet said whether they will back expansion at Heathrow. Cable privately believes that neither the Conservatives nor Labour will be able to back the project given the level of controversy around it.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, admitted that there was still vocal opposition from some camps. However, he said he was more optimistic than he had ever been that the west London airport’s case was winning wide support.
“Heathrow has local councils on board, Gatwick doesn’t. We have support both locally and nationally,” Holland-Kaye told the newspaper. “There will be more economic benefit for local people. The majority of local people now support Heathrow, which wasn’t the case before.”
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