Gove v Ridley

New Cabinet Ministers after the 2017 General Election
Pictured Michael Gove,
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There are lots of people telling me that I shouldn’t expect too much from Michael Gove because he is a politician. I had noticed that Mr Gove is a politician! And it is because he is an ambitious politician who needs to impress the electorate and his colleagues to advance his political career that I do trust him a bit. I trust him to want to make a good impression and to be bright enough, active enough, and indeed brave enough, to realise that means he actually has to do some good in the world to help create that impression.

So, I will continue to praise him when he says or does the right things, and look forward to being able to slag him off roundly when he does bad things.

But the fact that in today’s Times, the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley (see here, here, here) is having a go at Michael Gove tells me that I am right to be cheered, a bit, by what Gove is saying and doing.

Whereas I wrote yesterday that Gove’s idea for an independent body to hold government to account is just what we need, and we could dispense with NE as a result and absorb its functions back into Defra, Matt Ridley says that NE is a fine and wonderful body which is doing all it need do. Matt loves NE because it is toothless and hopeless and he is scared of Gove’s independent body because it would find it difficult to be as hopeless. I would be happy for NE to be wound up because it is toothless and hopeless and would support a new start and a body which might hold government to account.  Matt and I see the world in the same way but want different things – that’s what’s going on here.

The n-s-t Viscount Ridley (bro-in-law of Owen Paterson, remember) castigates Mr Gove, who has already achieved more for the environment than Paterson did in his Defra tenure, for embracing the ‘green blob’ but it is clear that listening to environmental experts, and ones who have charitable status rather than vested landed interests, is what Mr Gove has decided to do. That is quite wise of him, and rather than this being client-capture as Ridley claims, it is the exact opposite – it is Gove eschewing the vested interests of farmers and landowners like…well, like the n-s-t Viscount Ridley, and instead going for real advice.

And then, as I did yesterday, the n-s-t Viscount Ridley gets on to grouse shooting – just as an example of course! He’s a bit worried that the EU is going to give the UK a kicking over Walshaw Moor (is it possible that his bro-in-law might just possibly find that he gets some of the flak for this?) whereas I am rubbing my hands for when the day comes.

We will lose those bodies that will hold the UK to account over its environmental actions when Brexit happens (iih – if it happens) and that is exactly what some Brexiteers wanted all along – it was a part of why some people bought the Brexit idea. Natural England has never been and certainly now isn’t that body and it is completely fanciful to suggest that it is. Gove is right to propose a fully independent body to replace European institutions and to fill the governance gap.

Matt Ridley, Owen Paterson and others are irritated at the thought.  Go Gove! I say.



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  1. Random22 says:

    Calling it now, Prime Minister Gove before the end of next year. Then he'll ditch any "green" pretensions along with workers and disabilities rights. We need to stop praising him, he is dangerous and will use good-faith articles like this to worm his way into power.

    • John Cantelo says:

      Whilst he's still promising to do the right things, I see no advantage at all in not giving Gove judicious praise where it's due and considerable disadvantages in failing to do so. Speculating about what may or may not (and I favour the latter) be the situation in a year or more won't help us now. Encouraging him to make ever more positive promises, still more so if they evolve into actions, will make it increasingly difficult for him to backtrack in the future. He showed his obstinacy when Education Secretary so let's use this trait whilst we can. His intellectual vanity will make it hard for him to change course so at this point it's better to help him dig the hole than trying to bury him.

      • murray marr says:

        Good comment, especially 'His intellectual vanity will make it hard for him to change course ...'
        The trouble is that, like a lot of very articulate (and somewhat cuddly politicians), he appears to have prehensile teeth.

  2. Philip Espin says:

    I agree with everything you say. I was extremely sceptical about Gove but he appears to be a cleverer politician than his confederate Boris. Is he trying to demonstrate that Brexit is not solely for the benefit of right wing nut jobs but might actually benefit British people by exercising better environmental regulation than we get from the EU? We’ll see.

  3. SteB says:

    I wasn't personally saying you shouldn't expect too much from Michael Gove. I was simply advising caution. It may very well be that Gove has had some sort of on the road to Damascus conversion, and I remain open minded about this. I would entirely agree on the need for a body to hold government to account on the environment. Although of course that was partly the purpose of statutory regulatory bodies, such as the NCC-English Nature-Natural England and why supposedly it is not just another Defra department.

    The progressive neutering of our statutory regulatory bodies, legislation etc, has been down to governments in power, and especially Conservative governments, as these regulatory bodies interfere with the vested interests, which prop up the Conservative Party.

    What I was trying to caution about yesterday is realpolitik. In other words, even if Gove is entirely sincere, his ability to deliver what he promised is not clear cut. We can be sure that the backlash against Gove's ideas isn't just from rent-a-mouths in the Tory Press, but that there will be serious in party lobbying by vested interests that are either already prominent in the Conservative Party, or have influence over it i.e. funding, connections.

    In short, Gove's idea goes against the grain of Conservative interference in regulatory bodies for nearly 40 years. Gove will not be able to introduce this without the support of the Conservative Party hierarchy. What is more even if the plans go ahead the Conservative Party hierarchy is likely to want to seriously water down the powers of any such body. Many Conservative Party linked vested interests have gone so far in the wrong direction for so long, that it is very difficult to imagine a body created by the Conservative Party stamping its authority on them.

    Again I think it is best to fully support the proposal Gove has made, but at the same time to make it clear that it really does need to be independent and to have the necessary powers.

    I'm a bit baffled to say the least about Mark's claims about NE. Again Mark is suggesting that the functions of NE are far more one-dimensional than they actually are. NE carries out many functions, not just regulation, and to imply these could be carried out by Defra, which has virtually become an arm of the NFU is worrying to say the least. Note that Gove has not stopped the irrational anti-science Badger cull, where in a court case Defra refused to release papers on the grounds that on this matter the NFU and Defra were to be seen as virtually one and the same.

  4. Keith Dancey says:

    In my experience, it was Natural England's responsibility to enforce the Habitats Directive (as enshrined into English Law, no reference to the Habitats Directive were required) in its submission to the Public Inquiry regarding the Chiltern Railways (Oxford to Bicester improvements) TWA Order.

    They did not (I am still scarred by this event).

    When I appealed to the EU Court of Justice over the failure of Natural England to enforce the Habitats Directive, the (unelected, unaccountable) Commission BLOCKED my submission. Therefore, in this instance (there are plenty of others) the EU was of no environmental use whatsoever: *there is no mechanism to make it enforce its own rules*

    Neither is there any chance that we can ever change the Commission. In its response, the Commission actually denied parts of its own legislation existed. I had no right of appeal. An unelected, unaccountable body of bureaucrats and vested interests 'own' access to the Court of Justice.

    The reason the Commission could do this without fear of recrimination is because I carry no traction. I am not a respected body like the RSPB, and I could not get the relevant conservation organisations to support my submission - because they are reliant upon Natural England for funding! They were intimidated into silence.

    The reason Natural England have become impotent in the cause of wildlife against the interests of economic development is because the last Labour Government (2005) forced it to enshrine the Hampton Principles into its statutes. Namely:

    "regulators should recognize that a *key element* of their activity will be to allow, or even *encourage, economic progress* and only to intervene when there is a clear case for protection"

    Therefore, the only statutory authority in the UK specifically charged with advising the Government on wildlife, has to consider as *key* the effect on economic development, when the business case also has the rest of Government supporting it.

    Who, in Natural England, has expertise on the economics of railways and its relationship to the UK's Gross Domestic Product? How can Natural England possibly compete with the Department of Transport, Network Rail and Deutsche Bahn on economic matters?

    To make matter even worse, the Coalition Government decimated Natural England's funding.

    Natural England is no longer fit for purpose, because all three main political parties have undermined its central purpose of protecting our wildlife.

    But the EU and its miserable, unelected, unaccountable Commission did nothing!

  5. Filbert Cobb says:

    Given that running DEFRA is seen as some kind of punishment for misbehaviour I can't imagine that Mr Gove sees it as the pinnacle of his career and what with Mrs May's seemingly tenous hold on her job it is entirely possible that he will be off to pastures new without having had time to enact his unexpectedly positive ideas

  6. Sandra Padfield says:

    The Times has been giving a lot of space to Matt Ridley recently, far too much! First he was bellowing about Gove's plan to ban his favourite insecticide, now he's shouting against the possibility of having a decent regulatory body protecting our environment. Personally, I've always regarded the man as a menace to any meaningful kind of environmental protection and I hope Michael Gove has the sense and courage to see through these self-interested rantings and implement his own, properly researched decisions.

  7. nimby says:

    By Gove, do I sense that NE are seen as being #notfitforpurpose ? Fresh blood, backbone and tenacity and strengthened legislation?

    Let's start with the Precautionary Principle and Polluter Pays? Then let's bring in Vicarious Liability .... oooh couldn't we have fun with offering case studies to support case for environmental protection?

    An agnostic, I judge on tangible actions so by Gove, go for it .....

  8. Ed Hutchings says:

    "look forward to being able to slag him off roundly when he does bad things."

    Why would you "look forward" to it? Seems prophetically churlish to me.


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