LIBERAL DEMOCRAT delegates have defied the party leadership by voting to oppose building any new runways at airports in the UK despite warnings it will stifle regional hubs such as Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
An amendment which would have supported the expansion of regional airports was voted down at the Glasgow conference. The move was pushed by London party members targeting seats in the west of the capital hoping to pick up anti-Heathrow and Gatwick votes.
But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned members risk another tuition fees-style disaster by forming a policy they may have to abandon in coalition. He pleaded for his party to think again after its rank-and-file humiliatingly rejected a policy change that could have opened the door to extra runways at Gatwick and Stansted.
He insisted the current approach did not make “sense”, suggesting the Lib Dems were repeating the mistakes of the student fee debacle – which led to a highly damaging U-turn after the election.
There were also warnings about the impact on Scotland with Christine Jardine, prospective parliamentary candidate for Gordon in north-east Scotland, arguing: “This policy threatens to undermine both economic growth and a fairer society …And it seems short-sighted.”
But a slew of activists voiced concerns during the debate, with claims the party could be environmentally neutral derided as a “magic” trick and “not credible”. Mr Clegg was there for the verdict, but with the outcome clear, did not bother to vote.
Former London Assembly member Mike Tuffrey, who was beaten by Lord Paddick in standing for nomination as Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoral race in 2012, said further expansion in the South-east would not help rebalance the economy.
He added: “If you let the bulldozers start roaming in the South-east, whether at Gatwick, at Stansted, [or] Boris’s Fantasy Island, you will not get the jobs you want in your region.”
He also said making a U-turn would harm Lib Dem prospects in London and the South-east at the general election next year.
Sir Howard Davies, the former London School of Economics boss who chairs the Airports Commission, has shortlisted Heathrow or Gatwick as options for another runway by 2030.
He is due to deliver his final recommendation after the election – with the Tories and Labour likely to back his findings.
The Lib Dem leadership fears being placed in an impossible position if it is negotiating to form another coalition.