There are 653 days until the next General Election and since a week is a long time in politics this a very long time to go. However, most people will probably already have made up their minds on this coalition government and it will take distinct jolts , changes or events (dear boy) to alter their opinions.
As far as Defra is concerned, it is a shambles. David Cameron can’t care about the environment otherwise he would have noticed and done something about it. And George Osborne, we know, doesn’t care about the environment and so is perfectly happy for the shambles to continue.
We have a Secretary of State at Defra who: is climate-sceptical, is anti-Europe, is pro-badger culling, sat on his hands for too long when ash dieback arrived and hasn’t said anything sensible about nature since he arrived. On Saturday he awarded a prize to Melton Mowbray pork pie makers and that is the level at which Mr Paterson’s engagement with rural issues should remain; looking handsome and handing out the prizes. He is quite handsome and he would hand over a cup very nicely – but he’s clearly out of his depth when it comes to running the environment department.
I said that most people will have made up their minds on this government, so what have they decided? A Conservative majority is now at odds of around 100/30 – less than a one in four chance according to the weight of money. A hung parliament is favourite at around 11/8 and a Labour majority is around 13/8. And the polls suggest something quite similar.
Cameron won’t care much about the Defra team in electoral terms and he shows no sign of caring about the countryside anyway, but he may have to reshuffle just to give himself some chance of finding a better electoral hand with a few decent cards. He looks like he has a doctored pack with all the picture cards and aces removed and replaced with jokers at the moment. Obviously the Queen of Hearts, Theresa May, is keeping her head down and the Knave of Spades, Michael Gove, is thinking up next week’s reorganisation of the education system. If Cameron feels he has to reshuffle, then Defra will be bottom of his list of priorities, but he may, in the end, think about putting someone in Defra who can look good and not lose the respect of everyone except the CLA and the NFU. Is there anyone out there who can open his, or preferably, her, mouth without looking like someone who wants to get rid of Britain’s wildlife?
Even Richard Benyon, who ought to know so much better, couldn’t rustle up anything meaningful to say at the State of Nature Report launch back in May (the Minister appears in the video after 23 minutes). He praised volunteers and the business community whilst avoiding committing government to doing anything important in the UK for biodiversity conservation. He even had to mention that some species are increasing and he’d have to have a word with the RSPB about them – have you seen a buzzard eating a pheasant Minister, or maybe a cormorant eating a fish? How shocking! Some species are doing well even under this government – something should be done about it! I’ll have a word with my ‘keeper.
I do wonder what those Conservatives who care deeply about the environment think about the mess that Defra are creating. Does Carolin Spelman feel that she is well out of it these days? Maybe Sir James Paice feels the same? Surely John Gummer feels that the steps forward that he and Michael Meacher, in their own ways, achieved were not secured by the last Labour government and have not been recovered by this Conservative administration. What does Peter Ainsworth, such a good Shadow Secretary of State who had the respect of the nature conservation NGOs, but ditched from the ministerial team before the last election, think of the mess that his colleagues are making of nature conservation? How about Ken Clarke – a proper birder – does he wince at the legacy of a broken statutory conservation system that his colleagues will leave behind?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. However, I notice that Conservative supporters are wondering where the green Tory agenda went. This article treats ‘green’ as ‘energy and climate change’ like so many do these days, and says little about the countryside and its wildlife, but it is right to say that ‘conservation is a very conservative end‘ and also that ‘environmentalism may only win votes at the margins – but that doesn’t mean the Conservatives should just let Labour, the Lib Dems, whoever, range freely across this territory at the next election. Nurturing a “clean and healthy environment to pass on to our children,” as the last Tory manifesto put it, is a noble endeavour, and one that shouldn’t just be associated with the left.‘. I agree with that.
The trouble is that the Conservative party is running out of time, when in power, to persuade anyone with a green thought in their heads that they would be the party for whom they should vote. Defra has been useless in this government and a few voters will remember that when they stare a ballot paper in the face. Some of them may vote for the dreaded UKIP as a result, not because UKIP have any sensible green policies but because the tug of the Conservative Party has been loosened by Defra’s ineptitude over several years. We quite often vote against things as well as for things.
Having said all that – there is little sign of a green clarion call from the Labour Party either.
I wonder what the Green Party are up to?