I was quite shocked by Owen Paterson’s performance on the Today programme on Tuesday in response to the Nature Check report (click here to listen, at 01:34 and 17 seconds). That is, shocked in the sense of outraged rather than surprised.
The gist of Paterson’s comments was that the views of the 41 organisations signing up to the report, who are supported by millions of people, do not matter to him, to Defra nor to the coalition government – they are just a bunch of badger-lovers. Defra said that the criticisms were ‘unjustified and based on opinions, not facts’. Oh well, we get our say at the ballot box on 7 May 2015 but since we are just expressing our opinions that probably won’t matter either.
The government’s own opinion of its progress doesn’t look too rosy actually according to their own assessment of the England Biodiversity Strategy although, even if you know it exists, you will find it difficult to track down this information as it receives no prominence on the government nor Natural England websites.
It was an insensitive performance. If only the Today Programme would have him on every morning more voters could get his measure.
Not to be outdone in affronting anyone with an environmental bone in their body, the Prime Minister appears to have told Ministers to ‘get rid of all this green c**p’ although one has to trust the Daily Mail on that point (which rather goes against the grain).
It’s a long time since anyone held out any remaining hope for the Prime Minister and his party to be champions of a green agenda.
It is the switch from ‘greenest government ever’ a few days after winning the General Election to ‘all this green c**p’ that destroys many people’s ability to take politics and politicians seriously.
On Tuesday’s launch of Nature Check the relatively new Defra Minister Lord de Mauley was on the platform to respond on behalf of Defra. He, in the relative private of a House of Commons meeting room, did what his boss should have done in the relative public of the Today Programme, and responded with urbane charm, a self-deprecating smile and a firm restatement of Defra’s wish to work with the members of Wildlife and Countryside Link in the future.
The Minister described himself as a ‘country boy’ and stated what Owen Paterson had also, earlier, said, that improving the environment and growing the economy were not incompatible – George Osborne please take note. Although he had a few crumbs of comfort for the survivors in Natural England, their role is ‘more important than ever’, NE will soon have to consider the impacts of its work on economic growth.
Maybe the government’s pollinator strategy will emerge before the end of the year and, on Tuesday, the government was about to announce its next round of Marine Conservation Zones.
As a new-ish Minister Lord de Mauley can get away with spreading the charm for a while but time is running out for this government to achieve on environmental issues.
The host of the Nature Check event was another Tory MP, and the third old Etonian in this list (not that the Tory party is stuffed full of old Etonians, of course, perish the thought) – Zac Goldsmith.
I had a quick chat with Zac and thanked him for all the good work he does on the Environmental Audit Committee (where he is a star). In his introduction Zac sounded quite like a polite wildlife NGO Chief Exec – he pointed out that the government had done quite a good job on some things, singling out Richard Benyon’s role in CFP negotiations (as did the Nature Check report) and then went on to say that government could do much better.
Examples of areas where he specifically said that government could do better were Marine Conservation Zones around the English coasts and Marine Protected Areas in the seas around UK Overseas Territories. Hear hear! on both counts.
Zac Goldsmith is, probably, never going to become a Defra Minister because he would probably find it difficult to toe the line. His independent presence on the back benches enriches the House of Commons and the more people listen to him then the greater the chance that wildlife will be enriched too.