It’s quite possible that Boris’s own re-election team’s private polling was already aware of the flagging in the polls that’s been causing waves today, as the last few weeks have seen a blizzard of new initiatives above and beyond those (*cough* bus *cough*) long scheduled to provide a suitable featherbed of PR ops in the run up to a triumphant re-election in May. Just this week we’ve had the next stage in the Outer London Fund, or what looks for all the world like bunging a lot of money to outer areas of London in an election year by a man who intends to rely on outer London votes. Hmm.

We’ve also had, inevitably, another kick at the corpse of Boris Island/Peninsula/somewhere Airport, the infinitely shifting albatross gifted to Boris by Kit Malthouse back in 2007 and apparently impossible to shift. This week’s attempt is by a substantial margin the daftest and most counterproductive yet, with Boris looking stupid and out of touch and his own party leader being forced to slap him down in public, simultaneously exposing his administration as amounting to nothing more than a bunch of spivs spinning to Tory newspapers.

The start was, obviously, a carefully planted story in the Telegraph, accompanied by low-level raids from the low-browed Benedict Brogan against the expected yowls from the Lib Dems, who Boris doesn’t have to consult but Dave does:

Coalition deal on Boris Island Airport threatened by Nick Clegg flip-flop

It all had the air of a rush job, really:

The major of London also suggested that the new airport could take as little as six years to complete and would not cost the taxpayer anything to build.

‘Major of London’? That Tory newspaper obsession with uniforms is getting out of hand. No matter, what we have here are two unverifiable assertions which actually whiff to high heaven – you can’t build an airport plus a town of 250,000 people to provide the workforce plus motorways and the bare minimum of two rail links in six years in the UK unless you abolish democracy completely, although Boris may be counting on this. L’etat, c’est moi, and all that. Likewise a burn rate of nearly £10bn/year dwarfs Crossrail’s spend and putting that much money up front will demand a quite staggering return on investment even if there’s a Gulf wealth fund daft enough to try (and that particular line of Kit’s has been around since before the current financial crisis, so is more than a little dubious). Would you trust that amount of cash to a scheme which currently exists as a few CGIs on Lord Foster’s website? Does Boris really believe this stuff?

A clue to the latter comes in the latest Boris flagrant lie, as exposed neatly by Tim Fenton, who calls out Boris…

...telling a suitably outrageous whopper about airport ownership in the UK:

Tim has spotted that Boris’s assertion that

“The difficulty obviously people will raise is finance. Let me point out to you that every airport in this country, like Colin Matthews’ Heathrow, is privately owned.”

is horseshit, since Britain’s largest airport operator MAG is owned by Manchester Council and neighbours. We know Boris doesn’t check facts, so this is back to the bendy bus/cyclist question; does he just make up facts to fit his case or is someone feeding him a line? I think we should be told, or possibly ask him.

In this case Boris appears to have had his head swayed by Fosters ‘beautiful scheme’ renderings of a site at Cliffe, and long memoried readers may recall that Fosters also won the New Bus competition with similar renderings. They’re good at renderings, but that doesn’t explain why having spent years whiffling about an airport far out to sea Boris is essentially now supporting a completely different land-based proposal far closer to London and without much of the supposed environmental benefits of the seven-miles-off-Sheppey site.

Boris’s other assertion about the area being one that…

…fell into decline in the period after the war with the closure of the docks. There is huge scope, I believe, for economic regeneration and growth in that area.

is also highly dubious; that describes the London Docks, true, but part of the reason for their decline was that larger ships and smaller workforces allowed new port facilities downriver to be developed, at Tilbury for instance, or Thamesport, or the new London Gateway facility opening in 2013 directly opposite the Fosters site.  In reality this is an area that’s had millions pumped into it to provide highly automated, tiny workforce efficient modern logistics facilities, some of which Fosters seem to want to rip out and plant their airport on.

Boris also makes a point of drawing attention to ‘25%’ of all people in Europe affected by aircraft noise being around Heathrow, which is ‘in the wrong place to be our long term hub airport’, suggesting that he intends to close it should a new airport appear, or at least to make a play of this out west over the next four months.  However, this has immediately been contradicted by the minor figure of the Chief Executive of British Airways’s parent company IAG, Willie Walsh, who seems to be suggesting that it would take considerably more than desperate Mayoral PR to change his view.

Mr Walsh said: “Even if you build it, you’ve got no return unless you close Heathrow.”

Walsh is essentially forcing the estuary airport supporters to pick a fight with the country’s flag carrier if they want to see this through, probably calculating that Boris doesn’t have the guts and Cameron won’t want to pick fights on behalf of his increasingly high-profile leadership challenger.  In fact, the most tangible outcome from all this puffering appears to be that Boris has bounced the Prime Minister into slapping down a high-profile Conservative who, despite personal distrust, he still desperately wants to see re-elected.

P.S. It’s ironic that Downing St. are apparently prepared to put their name to a carefully spun leak essentially accusing Boris of using spin and PR to push silly ideas.  At this rate Cameron is in danger of putting us Boris bloggers out of business.  That’s *my* line, Dave.

 
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