I’m really rather surprised. Five years ago the Conservative manifesto was streets ahead of the others in its treatment of rural, wildlife and some environmental issues. That doesn’t mean I agreed with it, but one could see that someone, somewhere, had given it some thought. I was expecting the same this time around, and I was all geared up to be fair and say nice things about this manifesto (and then say I didn’t believe that the Conservatives would deliver) – but yippee!, I don’t have to because they forgot the countryside! Yes, even though they own it!
This, at least in the aspects that I am thinking of here, rural issues such as farming, forestry, wildlife etc, is a manifesto that will play into UKIP’s hands. That’s fine by me – let’s see that right wing vote split asunder!
There is a short section on farming (p21) but it sees the world through farmers’ eyes and the consumer gets a mention as a buyer of food. This isn’t addressing farming on behalf of us all, who contribute so much through our taxes and the CAP, this is a ‘how can we help farmers’ section – more badger culls, less red tape, more GM crops, more government help to promote British food abroad.
A Conservative government will ‘protect hunting, shooting and fishing for all the benefits to individuals, the environment and the rural economy that these activities bring‘. I guess that’s not a surprise, but it is a very clear indication of how tribal these issues are. Defra told me that they have carried out no study of the overall benefit of pheasant shooting on biodiversity and they appear to rely on the shooting industry for their economic information. Huh!
At least the Conservatives believe in recycling – they have repeated their promise to offer a free vote on repeal of the Hunting Act that was in the 2010 manifesto too.
On culture and heritage, the countryside gets a mention – we’re going to have more tourism! Nothing on protecting the British countryside that is such a cherished part of our natural heritage, but a bit about speeding up visa ‘issuance’.
Pages 54 and 55 (of 84 pages in all – this is quite a meaty read (I approve)) deal with protecting and enhancing our natural environment. It’s a bit thin – partly, I suspect, because the coalition government’s record has been so poor. Protected landscapes will remain protected – that is, provided we don’t do something daft like leave the EU. There is an ‘almost-promise’ to protect the seas around UKOTs (good) but the last five years has seen such abject failure in creating Marine Conservation Zones that it is difficult to read much into ‘we will complete the network of MCZs that we have already started’. I wonder whether that will be a recycled promise in every Conservative manifesto of the future? ‘Complete’, under current circumstances looks like being ‘Drop lots of them and create very few of them’.
The Conservatives won’t flog off our forests but they don’t say what they will do with them.
We’ll get more roads, more rail and more flood defences – that’s what protecting the environment is about.
Bees get a mention but not a plan of action here.
And, of course, as always, there’s lots of stuff about stopping foreigners being unkind to wildlife where they live but not much about us being kinder to our wildlife where we live.
So, although this is a pretty long document, and I intend to read it all, on wildlife issues in particular it is very poor. Surprisingly poor. I shouldn’t, perhaps be surprised because, after all, this is the government that has sat on its hands for five years when there was plenty of work to do in making the UK a better place for nature, a more sustainable place, a place richer in wildlife and in natural heritage. But even so, it’s a disappointment. I expected better, shinier more thought-through policies and ideas.
There is one thing that one can say though – these Conservatives certainly know how to write. It is very clearly and rather well written. But when you have nothing to say, clarity in writing is not such an asset.
In terms of treatment of the natural world I think this is no better than the rather inadequate Labour manifesto published yesterday. Is it worse? Maybe – and I didn’t expect that. It does show that Labour missed an opportunity in not addressing these issues much better – they could have outshone the Conservatives on what is usually a Conservative strength with just a bit of effort. But maybe that is the lesson to be taken from the ‘Big Two’ manifestos – neither Labour nor Conservative have much to say about the natural world – and they clearly aren’t bothered about attracting voters who do.
Other political party manifestos are available: