Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Is this the Ungreenest Government ever?

Some months back I attended a public meeting entitled 'Is this the Greenest Government Ever?' with speakers including local Lib Dem MP John Leech.  The verdict of the meeting was that it was too soon to tell, and that whilst being the greenest ever wasn't setting the bar very high, things still weren't that promising.  Given the events of the past few days, it might be more appropriate to turn the question round to 'Is this the Ungreenest Government ever?.

Even before the blue hordes descended our city for their Autumn conference (strange that a Party should choose to come somewhere where they are so unpopular) things were going downhill.   As well as increasing the threats to our green and pleasant land, the changes to the Planning laws skew the balance of power even further towards developers and away from local communities than at present.  See here for Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas' take on this.

On the eve of conference the Tories produced 2 anti-green howlers on the same day.  Time and again local authorities are told there is no extra money for health, welfare and other public services and then  Eric Pickles suddenly finds a quarter of a billion pounds for local authorities to reinstate weekly bin collections; a gimmick designed to please the tabloid press, and a threat to undermine the recent improvements in recycling, including in Manchester (although admittedly from a low base here).  The case against this is well argued by Rupert Read in Left Foot Forward (listed by the BBC as one of the 5 media sources for this alongside the likes of the Mail and Express.     

At the same time Transport Minister Phillip Hammond went for the boy racer vote by bringing in a consultation to raise the motorway speed limit to 80 mph.  According to free paper The Metro this is apparently Plan B for the economy.  As a cyclist friend of mine said 'Plan B for Bonkers'.  Apart from the fact that such a move would shave no more than a few minutes of people's journeys (and get them to the next traffic jam quicker), the extra 10 mph is likely to cause an increase of around 20% in carbon emissions    (I know the 80 mph is being balanced with a call for more 20 mph zones in cities, but on that I'd say 2 things: we should be much further down that road anyway by now, and secondly the higher people drive on motorways, the harder they'll find it to slow down to that level in the cities.) 
Ah yes, carbon emissions - climate change.  Remember Dave Cameron and his huskies?. Remember when we claimed to be leaders in the reduction of carbon emissions?.  Well Dave's long-time Bullingdon buddy George Osborne has now kicked that in to touch in his conference speech here in Manchester.   There's some good comment on it here from the Guardian's Damian Carrington -   .

Now that may be just the views of one cabinet minister (albeit a very influential one), but it chimes with something I've observed about the conference this week.  For the past 4 years Labour and Tory have alternated their conferences in Manchester.  In previous years with both Parties (yes, even the Tories) there has always been a  profile of environmental fringes outside the 'Security zone' with ministers or shadow ministers willing to engage with NGOs;  For some reason that  just doesn't seem to be happening this time.

Ungreenest Government ever? there's a lot of competition, so maybe it's too early to answer this too.  But that 'Greenest Government Ever' looks a long way off now...