Ben Draper takes a look at the political implications for infrastructure following new Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet appointments…
In appointing her first Cabinet, Prime Minister Theresa May has begun to put her administration’s agenda for government into action. Only a select few Cabinet members have kept their roles from the previous government. Many previously junior ministers now also enjoy senior roles in Mrs May’s administration, while in a highly unusual career path, the new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has never held a government post before.
Another notable feature of the Cabinet is the relative balance of members from both the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ camps during the EU referendum. This move is likely to lend credibility to Mrs May’s management of what will be the fractious process of negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU. As with her predecessor, she will have one eye very firmly on party management, especially with a Parliamentary majority of just 12.
For example, Chris Grayling has been appointed as Transport Secretary. Mr Grayling, who was a prominent Leave campaigner in the EU referendum, formerly served as the Leader of the Commons, meaning that he – like Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – is a Leave campaigner who has enjoyed a considerable promotion under the new Prime Minister.
In his first few days in the role, Mr Grayling has couched his support for HS2 in equivocal terms, saying that he has ‘no plans to back away’ from the project. He has also adopted a cautious tone towards a decision regarding the expansion of the south east’s airport capacity: while the Transport Secretary has called for a decision on the matter to be made quickly, he has also reiterated the need for the decision to be taken by full Cabinet.
In the meantime, a £344m expansion of London City Airport has been announced, including connectivity and passenger improvements. This announcement may be intended to temporarily placate the increasing calls for a final decision on the question over the south east’s airport capacity. However, the issue is perhaps even more politically problematic for the newly-formed Cabinet than the last one: the prime candidate for expansion, Heathrow airport, lies within 15km of the constituencies of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Transport Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Education Secretary.
To make matters worse, the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, has plainly called for the Heathrow expansion to go ahead as soon as possible. Replacing Greg Clark in the role, the former Business Secretary was closely linked to Stephen Crabb’s abortive Leadership bid and campaigned to remain in the EU. However, he was also a close ally of former Chancellor George Osborne during the last Government, meaning that he was lucky to be spared from his colleague’s fate: It has now emerged that Mr Osborne did not jump, but was pushed from Government by Mrs May.
However, there are important points of agreement between Mrs May and Mr Javid. Mr Javid has called for what he described as a ‘Growing Britain’ fund, involving infrastructure spending funded by cheap borrowing. Given that Mrs May has signalled her support for a similar kind of infrastructure stimulus, this may be a likely feature of the coming period for the Government.