Is the Government “frit” – as Margaret Thatcher would say – about reaching a decision on a third runway for Heathrow Airport?
It would seem that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Their failure to do so last week has been variously denounced as “gutless” and “cowardly”, particularly by industrialists, and yet hailed by those who want to see Heathrow stay as it is and think Gatwick instead should be the “beneficiary” of an extra runway.
The Government’s claim that it needs at least another six months to consider the environmental effects of a third Heathrow runway rings hollow with those who insist that Britain’s economy will suffer if nothing is done. After all, this has been a burning issue for years. Someone, at some stage, has got to say yea or nay.
Many people suspect the excuse the Government needs more time to assess the environmental impact of all this is merely a shameful pretence – and that Conservative Party political issues are at the heart of the problem.
Are ministers afraid that a decision – one way or another – if taken before May, could adversely affect the Tories’ prospects at local elections? It is beginning to look like it.
And Zac Goldsmith, the Conservatives’ choice for Mayor of London, has metaphorically held a gun at ministers’ heads by warning that he could resign as an MP if the Heathrow option goes ahead.
And David Cameron, whose House of Commons majority is far from substantial, can ill-afford to lose an MP and be confronted with a very difficult by-election to fight.
What is more, the Cabinet is also divided on the issue and at least one member, Justine Greening, International Development Secretary, has threatened to resign from office if Heathrow is the preferred choice.
That would be a huge embarrassment to the Prime Minister and an equally huge boost to Labour.
Just as well that Victorian entrepreneurs did not dither and twiddle their thumbs like this – or there would hardly have been an industrial revolution.