Has Boris blundered over Heathrow issue?

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Will the bitter row over a proposed new runway for Heathrow Airport prove to be the undoing of Boris Johnson, possibly leaving his reputation in tatters and wrecking his ambitions to become leader of the Conservative Party?

Johnson has adopted what many would describe as an “over my dead body” approach in his fervour to prevent an extra runway at Heathrow. So why was he not present at the key exchanges in the Commons last week over this issue? It is likely Boris wanted to avoid having to attack his own government in public.

So, what was his excuse for being AWOL? He claimed he had a prior and long-standing engagement as Mayor of London, chairing a board meeting of Transport for London.

Important though that engagement might be, I feel it is a flimsy excuse. Not only should Parliament have come first, but he should also have been there to speak out on behalf of his constituents.

His constituency is Uxbridge, in the West of London, an area which would be hugely affected by any such major developments at Heathrow. So you could argue he has let his constituents down for not being present to underline his views, which are also surely the views of the majority of voters in Uxbridge.

Johnson is probably relying on the likelihood this lapse will quickly be forgotten. That will not happen. This row will run, and at some point Johnson will have to come out strong in the Commons, even if it does damage his prospects of leading the Conservative party and possibly, at some stage, being handed the keys to 10 Downing Street.

But not being there to fight his corner on behalf of his constituents could be even more damaging.

Professor Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, suggests the Palace of Westminster’s renovations provide a good opportunity to move Parliament to the small Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge.

But Sir Bernard Ingham, who was Margaret Thatcher’s press chief and is Hebden Bridge’s most famous son, does not agree. He said: “Where on earth in Hebden Bridge, except possibly the Picture House, and that would be hopelessly overcrowded, could you accommodate 650 MPs and all the hangers-on? Crackers.”

Sir Bernard was never one to mince his words.