Kicking Up a Stink
Back in May I wrote a blog about 7 causes we could all get behind, which I thought were relatively easy wins. One of them was cleaning up our rivers.
Faced with gruesome photos and videos day after day and marshalled by the formidable Feargal Sharkey, keyboard warriors the length and breadth of the country rallied to the cause. We know the result - after initially opposing it, the government has apparently finally supported an amendment from the Lords to stiffen requirements to reduce the discharge of sewage into our rivers.*
It has been a really interesting tussle, and has set the battle lines for many more to come.
One of the strange things about it was how unprepared the government seemed to be for the backlash against them initially rejecting the amendment. Backbench MPs seemed shocked. Some tried to portray it as a devious political campaign. Others parroted the party line that the amendment was wholly unworkable. It was pretty clear quite quickly that several hadn't really understood what it was all about at all and had just followed the whip.
Today's budget was also completely tone deaf. Astonishingly, it included a CUT in airport taxes for domestic flights. It also included a freeze on fuel duty - for the 12th year. The timing is incredible, and Rishi Sunak just isn't reading the room.
Government HAS to start taking the environment more seriously. I know - I would say that, wouldn't I? - but the electorate is starting to really worry about it, including, not least, climate change. You can argue about polls, but they're all suggesting similar things. This from Ipsos Mori is already two months old:
It's in the government's self interest to start walking the walk on these issues, and it must start NOW. Many younger voters have already turned their backs on a system which has just given them blah blah blah. Many of us older punters, of all political persuasions, are despairing too. Blimey, pensioners are glueing themselves to the M25, for goodness' sake.
The government must quickly understand the scale and depth of feeling on this stuff. It might. Although they might not be good for much, populist politicians are - well - populists. It could just be that the sewage scandal rings alarm bells for them.
As for the rest of the Environment Bill, there are still various problems with it. The main one is that the mooted Office of Environmental Protection, the new environmental regulator, isn't properly independent.
The Lords is fighting this too, and not so long ago I heard Michael Gove explain why it was essential. This would be the same Michael Gove who, along with DEFRA Secretaries of State Theresa Villiers and George Eustace, I heard with my own ears promising there would not, could not possibly be trade deals like the recent one signed with New Zealand.
Which all goes to show there's no such thing as an easy win after all.
*As I write now (6th November), despite everything the government is still trying to wriggle out of this commitment...