Airport row flies over Tory childcare announcement

 
Charlotte Henry
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THE CONSERVATIVES’ manifesto, published yesterday, fails to rule out expanding Heathrow – a decision that could put pressure on Zac Goldsmith, the party’s candidate in Richmond Park.

Goldsmith said in 2012 that he would not stand as a Tory candidate if there was “wriggle room” in his party’s manifesto on Heathrow expansion, which he strongly opposes.

Goldsmith’s Liberal Democrat challenger Robin Meltzer told City A.M that Goldsmith “needs to step aside as the Conservative candidate – just as he said he would. Goldsmith’s own party’s manifesto now runs contrary to what he has made his central issue.”

When the pre-election document was released yesterday it said only that the Tories would “respond to the Airports Commission’s final report”.

Goldsmith defended his position last night, telling City A.M.: “Conservative policy on Heathrow changed three years ago in 2012 when the Airports Commission was set up. The manifesto doesn’t change anything. My promise to residents remains the same as in 2008; if my party gives a green light for expansion I will trigger a by-election. We will know in a matter of months.”

The row came after the Conservatives announced that they would fund 30 hours per week of free childcare, for every working parent with children aged three and four years old.

The policy will cost £350m and be funded from the £1.4bn made by reducing tax relief on pension contributions for people earning more than £150,000.

The party also faced attack on its ability to fund the manifesto more broadly. Paul Johnson, director of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, said in a radio interview that their plans to have a budget surplus by 2018 would involve “tens and tens of billions of pounds” of either spending cuts or tax increases. He added: “We got no new detail whatever of what those might look like”.

On Monday Johnson also hit out at Labour’s manifesto. “Literally we would not know what we were voting for if we were going to vote for Labour,” he said.