The current administration is doing a very good job of a swan impression. Above the surface it is all sweetness and light and peaceful serenity: no public clashes between Inners and Outers to speak of, a unified cabinet and party behind it, popular measures easing through Parliament, and so on. Below the surface there is an awful lot of swimming going on. Last week the papers were full of hints that the final final decision on Heathrow expansion was about to be announced.
As the nation as a whole breathed a sigh of relief, the plotters set out their stall. Zac Goldsmith, whose political career ground to a shuddering halt after his woeful performance during the London mayoralty election campaign, threatened to derail the Conservative government by doing a David Davis. George Osborne popped up to say that it should be Heathrow or nothing, because if it isn't Heathrow and Heathrow only, then nothing will ever get built. George Osborne's constituency is, of course, 200 miles away. Meanwhile Stansted got in on the action to say hey, if you let Gatwick build something then we want something too.
This is the problem with a pluralist democracy, and a huge problem when the government has a tiny theoretical majority but the governing party is fractured along many, many lines. There are plenty of local issues competing with national ones. Too many compromises were made at the last couple of elections, and neither main party can claim any unity on the airports issue. There is probably a majority in Parliament for Heathrow, but to get it through without the support of the local Tory MPs would be grist to the mill. If only we could be more French...
The Capitalists' preferred answer is to say yes to everyone. Allow Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and even Birmingham to proceed with expansion plans if they want to. Allow each to beef up its transport links, but only at its own expense. Let competition rule the day: only the most plausible and efficient project will be funded by investors. Governments are rubbish at deciding these things, because they have so many competing interests.
Or is Theresa May's government playing a longer game? Will her actual policy be put in the Tories' next manifesto, giving her a proper mandate to crack on after a general election? That is my working theory on Grammar schools, so why not airports as well? Win the argument, lose the vote, call an election, win big with a policy agenda that could not be clearer. Or is that too cynical?