Tories in turmoil after big Heathrow decision

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Three extraordinary things happened in about four hours as the Heathrow airport decision came in to land.

First, just that: a big strategic, difficult national infrastructure decision that lends itself to being constantly rolled into ever longer grasslands.

Despite an instant and public divide in her Cabinet, Theresa May has bitten the bullet and made a big decision that eluded three other prime ministers in 13 years.

For the Government it was the right decision to connect to as much of the UK as possible and to communicate to the world that a post-Brexit Britain that is “open for business”.

Second, the holder of one of the four big offices of state, the Foreign Secretary, left a Cabinet meeting to express his opposition to a policy that he subsequently called “undeliverable”.

Boris Johnson won’t be lying in front of any bulldozers, as promised last year, because there won’t be any bulldozers.

He claimed he was against a third runway because as soon as it is built we will get a fourth. This was allowed under the terms of the partial suspension of collective responsibility.

It is extraordinary nonetheless to see a Foreign Secretary attack his PM’s judgement on a very big strategic decision.

Will the Cabinet be able to stay united on the final Brexit decision if such dissent is permitted on this issue?

Third, the notion of the Governing party not putting up a candidate in a seat it holds has not been seen since 1963 when Tony Benn renounced his peerage to return to the Commons (and apparently before that in 1936 when the Conservatives did not defend “Combined Scottish Universities,” allowing Ramsay MacDonald to return as an MP).

The Conservatives have decided that allowing Zac Goldsmith a free run against their airport policy is preferable to splitting the vote and definitively handing the seat to the Liberal Democrats, who held it before 2010.

The Lib Dems have been undergoing a revival in council by-elections in Conservative-facing seats since the referendum.

Richmond Park is precisely the sort of seat in which they will fancy their chances – 70% in the local council area voted Remain.

I’d expect leader Tim Farron and most Lib Dems to pitch a tent and live by the deers in the park for the next few weeks as they have an opportunity to increase their Commons representation by 12.5%.

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