The go-ahead was given for a third runway at Heathrow. But this wasn’t the week’s only infrastructure news….

In a significant blow for Britain’s infrastructure requirements, terrible rumours started to circulate in the week that Theresa May has decreed that the “grid” should be abandoned. The grid – a computerised chart used to choreograph government announcements – has absolutely no relevance to anyone except a couple of dozen or so political correspondents. If a government announcement goes down, we do not phone up the grid company demanding to know when Amber Rudd will be restored. The battle over infrastructure, however, is conducted by hugely influential lobbies that operate behind the scenes and are backed by the resources of giant corporations. This is a description fitting Westminster journalists exactly, and so we were bound to hear about it.

Unfortunately, there are signs that Mrs May may be impervious to their entreaties. The Prime Minister has acquired a reputation for not much liking big business, and it seems as if she doesn’t care for big journalists either. She will take a lunch or dinner off us, they complain, but not give anything away. She declines to turn up dutifully on a Monday morning to make some vacuous and ephemeral speech, of no lasting significance, but good for a page one lead on a slow news day. The Prime Minister, we are discovering, is a private person. She will not tell Parliament what she is up to, and she will not tell the hacks either. There is every possibility that we will wake up one morning to find that we have adopted the gold standard and declared war on Austria. This will not have been noted on the grid.

It was therefore remarkable in a way that we discovered on Tuesday that the Government has given the go-ahead to building a third runway at Heathrow – the week’s second most important infrastructure news. This is not, in fact, quite true. What has got the go-ahead is 10 years of legal wrangling, planning inquiries, judicial reviews, sit-down protests and Boris Johnson bulldozer photo opportunities until, on some distant foggy morning in the 2020s, a man might finally turn up with a shovel and split the virgin turf. Since the Coalition Government shelved the Heathrow plan six years ago, China has built 70 airports. At this rate there could be one airport for every 10 Chinese before any jets touch down on a new length of west London tarmac.

China, or for that matter France, do these things that much more ruthlessly. In their jurisdictions, Boris wouldn’t be so much lying down in front of the bulldozers and lying underneath the concrete. The villagers of Harmondsworth – the community most directly affected by the third runway – would be made an offer they cannot refuse.  In a time when we are pondering the nature of our democracy, and the fraught relationship between Parliament and the people, our way is all really rather quaint and British.

There will be a by-election in under-the-flightpath constituency of Richmond Park. The constituency’s quasi-Tory MP Zac Goldsmith resigned his seat in protest, prompting a self-declared “Heathrow referendum” contest that will be primarily fought with a Liberal Democrat who is equally opposed to the runway decision. For the Liberals, the by-election is a referendum all right, but on Brexit. Sir Vince Cable, who still intends to stand next time for his party in the neighbouring constituency of Twickenham, is stirring menacingly. The contrary Mr Goldsmith, he points out in that chilling car park attendant manner of his, was a Brexiteer, in a constituency where the only other people to vote leave were an elderly couple who misread the ballot paper.

The Tories won’t be fielding a candidate in Richmond Park – or at least Mrs May hasn’t told us that they will. This decision at least has the advantage of avoiding the potential farce of a referendum fought out between three main candidates all of whom are on the same side of the argument (one assumes that the Tories wouldn’t have run on a “Bulldoze the Buggers” ticket; they are not that dense). This is not fertile territory for either Labour or UKIP. The only connection Jeremy Corbyn has with Richmond Park is when he comes in low over it on his way back from Cuba or Syria, or some other part of the world where his politics and personality are more warmly appreciated.

Lest we forget, UKIP remain in the perpetual state of trying to elect a new leader. The front-runner is said to be Paul Nuttall, a historian from Liverpool, standing as the “unity candidate” for which, one might imagine, there is only a limited constituency among the Kippers. Worse, Mr Nuttall is said not really to want the job. This is an ominous sign in a party whose last leader didn’t want the job either. To be fair to her, however, Diane James tried it out for 18 days before deciding to exercise the sale or return clause in her election contract.

This may leave the path open for Raheem Kassan,  who used to be Nigel Farage’s special adviser. Mr Farage famously hates special advisers, though that is unlikely to have fazed Mr Kassan since plenty of other people hate him too. He is undoubtedly the liberals’ prime bogeyman – some achievement for someone from UKIP – but has the great advantage of having the Party’s money behind him. This comes from Arron Banks. It is Mr Banks’ destiny to be the only one left in the country after the others have all hopped it  to Frankfurt over Brexit.

Mr Kassan is a stalwart of the so-called “alt right”, an on-line phenomenon and bound to fail as is any political movement that cannot distinguish itself from a command to boot up your Windows PC.  He does though have an imaginative policy platform, which includes the idea that we should tape Nicola Sturgeon’s legs together to prevent her from reproducing. Whether this is merely an aspiration, or is backed by a firm action plan, is no doubt an issue than can be tested at the hustings.

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