Autumn Statement Blues
I’ve had two disappointments this week. The first has been the Leveson enquiry. I’d sort of hoped – irrationally – that the hacks giving evidence might have turned out to be sentient beings. It turns out that they’re as moronic and unpleasant as their illustrious organs. Why on earth am I surprised? The second disappointment has been more profound. The forecasts included in yesterday’s Autumn Statement came as no great surprise, as the dead thump of various heavyweight chickens coming home to roost continues to reverberate around Westminster. The structural issues we are facing are of our own making and need long term solutions. These moments of crisis don’t come around often and present fantastic opportunities for radical change. We are confronted instead by our leaders resorting to political type. Listening to the economically illiterate Ed Balls this morning was like stepping into Doc Brown's Delorean and heading back to the 80s. I was even more disappointed by George Osborne’s swipe at the Habitats Regulations, which was preceded by a little reported but damaging government retreat on marine reserves earlier this week. Is he really saying that economic growth is being constrained by this kind of legislation? It just looks like a cheap shot for the benefit of some of his own back-benchers, who also apparently hail from a different age. In response various conservation folk (including the RSPB) have understandably gone ballistic, and the prospects of any of them working with this “greenest ever” administration look remoter than ever. I thought we had moved beyond all this. “Ecosystem services” can have an ascribable long term economic BENEFIT, which fact has, I thought, been recognized by government. I’m not talking about tourists visiting areas of outstanding natural beauty, but in a broader sense. Ecosystems can provide food and fuel. They can regulate climate and pollination, water and erosion. They can benefit psychological and physical health. There is a strong economic case for promoting healthy and attractive ecosystems, which the Minister for Biodiversity* would do well to educate some of his colleagues about. Protecting our environment isn't just an excuse for spending money on quangos, it's something we need to do for the benefit of all. *Yes, we have one! Richard Benyon, pictured for you lest he ever come up in a particularly challenging Pub quiz.