Mark Leftly: Spin doctors in a dogfight over airport expansion

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The Independent Online

Westminster Outlook A titanic tussle between Tony Blair spin-meisters over the future of Britain's airports has begun, this column can exclusively reveal*.

You might have heard of Godric Smith, the former Prime Minister's official spokesman from 2001-04 and then head of strategic communications at Number 10 for a couple of years. Several weeks ago the PR press revealed that Gatwick Airport had called in his communications agency, Incorporated London, to push for a £7bn second runway.

What hasn't been reported is that "Gatwick Godric", as I suspect he isn't known, finds himself up against two of the most important architects of Mr Blair's prime ministerial career.

Alan Barnard played a pivotal role in our ex-dear leader's 1997 general election victory as director of campaigns and elections. John Braggins was the party's "secret weapon" in helping Labour win virtually every parliamentary by-election in the decade to Mr Blair winning power.

I know these last facts because I read their biographies on the website of their communications agency, BBM. OK, a bit snide: contacts who have used BBM rate the pair highly. They also point out that BBM is advising Back Heathrow. This is the campaign arguing that the best option for Britain is a third runway at Britain's existing hub airport. Told you the battle was titanic.

GatGod refuses to comment, though insists he doesn't wish to appear "po-faced". Mr Barnard has been working on Heathrow's expansion campaign under the radar (ha!) for some months and argues his rival is "playing catch up".

Lovely coincidence though this might be, the sad thing is that these two campaigns are fighting a phony war right now rather than a Battle of Britain's airports.

The Coalition has completely ducked the issue of airport expansion. An Aviation Bill detailing which one, or two, airports must be expanded really should have been part of the Queen's Speech.

Or the Government could have at least had the guts to say it doesn't think Britain needs a hub airport or any major expansion.

Instead the Coalition gave us the Airports Commission, which isn't allowed to issue a final recommendation on where the UK should build its next runway until after the next general election.

That's a poor legacy for what claims to be a historic Coalition.

*Please note that "exclusively" is not usually a synonym for "no-one else thought it was worth reporting".