Smooth, very smooth

At yesterday evening’s Environmental Question time, the unelected Etonian, Rupert de Mauley was smooth, very smooth.

Quite how he emerged relatively unscathed on this government’s dreadful environmental record is hard to figure.  It was a mixture of partial admission of failure, partial avoidance of the question, partially making the most of a few potential successes and partially just appearing slightly out of one’s depth and therefore too soft a target to aim at (IMHO).

Lord de Mauley said some good things:

  • if he could tackle three things they would be climate change, biodiversity loss and water quality issues (top marks!)
  • he is against wildlife crime – but he mostly meant that done abroad to somebody else’s wildlife, it seemed
  • he was sensible on bovine tb, to the extent that he said that a mixture of vaccination, better biosecurity and badger culling might be needed but abject in saying that the government had followed a ‘comprehensive strategy’ which took account of the science
  • he said that GM crops could be safe, without elucidating how we might know
  • he could name some species that had done well (Red Kite, Otter and Large Blue butterfly) and large groups of species that are in trouble (farmland birds, woodland birds and pollinators) – but the thing is, he had three of each!
  • he mentioned carbon capture and storage

I could vote for what he said, but not when it is based on the current government’s record. His was a performance rich in charm, full of promise but based on failure. Nature Improvement Areas seemed to be the government’s major achievement – QED.

The most remarkable thing he said, and I am sure I heard this correctly, was that Natural England had told him that it was confident that they could halt biodiversity loss by 2020.

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14 Replies to “Smooth, very smooth”

  1. What does the fact that he's an Old Etonian have to do with it? If I was in government (God forbid), and you disagreed with me, would you refer to me as an Old Oundelian?

    1. It is not relevant to whether or not he makes a good case for the government's environmental policies.

      But: whilst for any single member of the government it is possible to conceive that their views on different policy issues are based on dispassionate evaluation of the arguments and not unduly influenced by self interest, when a very high proportion of those government members are all drawn from the same very narrow band of society it becomes rather difficult not to believe that the interests of that narrow band will tend to be advantaged, relative to the rest of society. In the case of grouse shooting, for example, it is likely that Old Etonians are generally a lot more 'pro' than the population as a whole.

        1. Being a generalisation does not necessarily make it wrong.

          For what it is worth I have no problem with an old Etonian being in the government. I do have a problem with only old Etonians being in the government (yes I know that not every member of the government went to Eton or one of its rivals but it doesn't really require a Chi-squared test to show that alumni of these schools are massively over-represented in the government compared to their frequency in the population overall).

          1. Yes, but it is an irrelevance.

            You comment is very contradictory. The majority of the government has long been derived from public schools and for good reason.

          2. "For good reason". I presume by this you mean that public school educated men (mostly men anyway) have for many decades tended to be the only ones with a sufficiently good education to be competent in government and not that this group of people are somehow inherently better than the rest of of the population and more suited to government? I daresay this (i.e. the former proposition) was once true but it hardly qualifies as a good reason. I would certainly prefer to live in a society in which everyone can rise to the level determined by their native abilities and their own efforts rather than one in which one's career aspirations are mapped out from birth on the basis of the wealth and status of one's parents.

          3. The salient fact, whether you like it or not, is that public schools provide a higher standard of education. The majority of Oxbridge students are drawn from them. The demise of grammar schools has reduced social mobility.

            Whilst it may be true that more than one-third of MPs elected in 2010 attended fee paying schools (including twenty Old Etonians), the House of Commons is more reflective of the population it represents than ever before. One might also comment it remains the case that more than 400 MPs, 62% of the total, are white men aged over 40.

            I can assure you that a public school education does not ensure "one's career aspirations are mapped out from birth on the basis of the wealth and status of one's parents." Total rubbish. It may give you an advantage but there is no substitute for hard graft and this is certainly taught in public schools through sport and other extra curricular activities.

            Do we take the same approach to the current crop of British actors winning plaudits at home and abroad? Dominic West, Damien Lewis and Eddie Redmayne are all Old Etonians. Benedict Cumberpatch is an Old Harrovian. Their success is built on determination and hard work.

          4. Excuse my careless use of language. I am sure that those old Etonians that have reached the pinnacles of their chosen careers have had to work hard and demonstrate appropriate talents and have not simply had everything 'mapped out' for them. Nevertheless there is a fundamental unfairness, not to say a waste of talent, in a system in which the majority do not get the advantage of the brilliant education that allegedly makes old Etonians so much fitter to govern us than anyone else.
            You mention that social mobility has been reduced since the demise of grammar schools but do not indicate whether you think that is a good or a bad thing. If you think it is a bad thing then essentially you agree with me.

          5. I neither agree or disagree with it. It was purely an observation.

            What I can't abide is classicism. It's not how this debate will be won.

    1. An easier option might be a serious cull of the unelected 850 & a good percentage of the 650?

      Then get rid of the 'political' civil servants in defra agencies, along with the developers aides Natural England (yes, I recognise there might still be a few good staff hanging on in there)?

  2. Well, it would be possible for one to say that in certain respects and within defined parameters, and with careful application of the appropriate superlative, this has indeed been the 'greenest' government ever, Minister [1].

    I am sure that, if you ask the Natural England Chairman to read out what is written on this card to you, then you will indeed be able to tell young Dimbleby that the agency had said that "biodiversity loss will be halted by 2020" [2].

    Of course, with the Red Tape Challenge, your colleagues have succeeded in removing the '1836 Inapproriate Use of Unlicensed Ferrets Act' from the Statute books, which may be celebrated as one of your Government's major triumphs during this parliament.

    If there is a more negative focus on the state of the country's waterbodies , highlight the extra spending [3] but emphasise that it would be premature to comment on progress until the 2016 target reporting [4].

    Above all, Minister, remember that according to Defra 'evidence is information used to support decisions' [5] - If it doesn't support your decisions, it isn't evidence and may be safely ignored - and continue all past governments' precautionary approach to the precautionary principle.

    If the issue of the latest 30% Defra budget cuts does come up, although the likely audience will probably be focussed on fracking, badgers and biodiversity [6] - No Minister, that was not a comment on the success of your Government's policies - simply point out that there is 'No Evidence' to show that this will have any harmful effects on your Government's ability to honour its commitments [7]

    Will you be seeing me again after May? At the present time, and for a not inconsiderable amount of the foreseeable future, I really couldn't hazard what might be construed as a strongly positive affirmation, Minister.

    [1. green - as in new, ill-informed. 'Most gangrenous' would indeed be more fitting, Minister]

    [2. Although cynics would say that the only way to achive such an impracticable target would be to remove all biodiversity in the first place - Countdown 2020. Going, going.... I'm surprised that your lot hasn't attempted flogging it off in the meantime, despite that mishandled affair with the forests]

    [3. But don't mention that most of it went on concrete flood defences]

    [4. That'll be some other Charlie's problem]

    [5. As Ms Black might be inclined to comment - Surprise, surprise]

    [6. Hmm, Nuts Screws Washers and Bolts]

    [7. Macchiavelli, who?]

  3. The whole Question Time can now be viewed online here -


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