September 04, 2006

Why's Blair passing up the solar–powered bandwagon?

Tony Blair’s rarely afraid of jumping on other people’s bandwagons. Whether it’s school dinners or aid for Africa, Blair follows as often as he leads. This often extends – especially before the 2005 election – to stealing ideas from the Conservatives. So why hasn’t Blair jumped on David Cameron’s most successful bandwagon, the environment?

The Director of Friends of the Earth says the Conservatives’ stance on the environment is as important as Labour’s Clause IV moment. But the key difference is that the Conservatives couldn’t do anything about Clause IV, whereas Labour could easily steal a lead on the environment if it wanted to. True, it would make Blair look weak, but it would also be the pragmatic thing to do. Blair boasts of his environmental record, but the reality is that he could do much, much more. The words “environmental tax” or “green tax” have never been spoken by Gordon Brown (which doesn’t suggest much for his presumed Premiership), and there is little support for individuals or businesses who want to go green, just legislation.

At DEFRA you have a very competent minister in David Miliband, but he too has offered little on the environment. So why?

My theory is that DEFRA is simply too big. Many have called for it to be broken up in the past, but with the environment such a key issue I think it’s high time that we had a Cabinet-level Environment Minister and a separate Department for the Environment.

DEFRA seems bogged down in agricultural issues, and bunching the environment with ‘rural affairs’ seems to be a strange association to make. Surely environmental problems usually originate in cities?

Breaking up DEFRA would focus minds and allow new policy initiative to be made. Otherwise it’s inevitable that David Cameron will be able to steal a lead on the environment when it’s an area of policy that ought to be Labour’s strong suit.


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