NIMBYism and the election
The anti-tarmac vote
The Conservatives are getting squeezed over big building projects
ON first glance, the constituency of Brentford & Isleworth, in west London, looks like a typical Conservative Party heartland. It is full of boutique shops and cafés. The back streets are lined with pretty Victorian terraced houses.
Yet Mary Macleod, the Conservative incumbent, has a fight on her hands to hold the seat. This is partly down to demographics. Along with plenty of middle-class residents the seat is dotted with council estates, and is also home to large Pakistani and Indian populations who have tended to vote for the Labour Party. But one of the biggest problems for Ms Macleod is not on the ground but in the air.
Each day dozens of aeroplanes fly over the constituency, which is near Heathrow airport. And depending on the outcome of the Airports Commission, which was set up by the coalition government to look into airport expansion, and which will report after the election, even more could criss-cross over the area.
Ms Macleod first won the seat in 2010 with a majority of 1,958 by campaigning heavily against airport expansion. And although Heathrow is not the only issue worrying local voters, winning the seat could still hinge on how effectively the Conservative incumbent can distinguish herself from Ruth Cadbury, the Labour candidate, who is also against a bigger airport. Ms Macleod's plight points to a larger problem for the Conservatives. Too often for comfort, well-meaning plans to improve the country's roads, airports and railways clash with the NIMBYish instincts of their core supporters.
The country's infrastructure is creaking. Sir Howard Davies, who heads the Airport Commission, estimates that Heathrow is full to capacity while Gatwick, the other option for airport expansion, will be full by 2020. According to the World Economic Forum British roads rank a lowly 30th in the world for quality, just above Chile and Sri Lanka. David Cameron, the prime minister, acknowledges the problem. The Conservative Party manifesto, launched on April 14th, commits to previous plans to splash out 15 billion ($22 billion) on the road network and 38 billion on the railways over the next parliament. Mr Cameron also reiterated support for HS2, a shiny new 42 billion high-speed railway from London to Manchester.
Yet in doing so, Mr Cameron has infuriated many natural Conservative voters. HS2, which runs through a series of safe blue seats in Buckinghamshire, is particularly divisive. The railway is a “headache” on the doorstep, admits one Conservative MP seeking re-election, as he is often limited in how vocally he can oppose it. To add to Tory woes, the UK Independence Party, which scooped up six council seats in 2013 along the route, is making hay on the issue. It claims to be the “only” party against the “construction disruption” HS2 will bring (although the Green Party also opposes it).
NIMBYs pose difficulties for any government, but particularly for Mr Cameron's, which has often trumpeted the notion that it is investing in Britain's infrastructure to levels not seen since the Victorian era. If economic growth is to be sustainable, then more infrastructure will be needed to support it. But if Heathrow is given the go-ahead for expansion, for instance, it will be “campaign, campaign and campaign again,” warns Barbara Reid, a local resident and former Conservative councillor. Getting Britain moving will require a big push from the next government—especially if the Tories win.
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