This. Is. A. Disgrace.
Friday's "mini budget" has been condemned in some quarters as a reckless, incompetently executed and morally repugnant exercise based on a failed economic theory. You might think that; I couldn't possibly comment.
I did want to go off on one, though, about the impacts on the environment of some of last week's announcements. Many new policies, including elements of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022, or "Brexit Freedoms Bill" will come as a surprise to voters who voted Conservative on the basis of the 2019 manifesto.
I’m not just talking about fracking, which is the least of it. The Growth Plan makes it clear that government is looking to dismantle all sorts of EU regulations, including many to protect the environment. These it describes as "burdens". The new proposed investment zones seem to be some kind of dystopian "free-for-all for nature and heritage". It's backsliding on net zero too, and missing obvious policy initiatives here.
The new ill-starred ELM subsidy system is going to be subject to a review in autumn. My bet is it's likely to be if not torpedoed, then holed under the waterline by a regressive looking new DEFRA team.
The Environmental Land Management Schemes are supposedly replacing the failed EU subsidy system. They're designed to encourage farmers to farm in a more nature friendly way while continuing to feed the nation. They were already running into trouble (underthought and underfunded) as regular readers of my blog would know, and government was looking less and less enthusiastic about them.
We need to address a whole range of problems in agriculture. ELMS doesn't get close to answering most of these questions in its current form. With resources and an integrated approach though - e.g. not doing trade deals like the one we did with Australia - the ELM approach might work. It's a very typical example of how complex and multi-faceted solutions like this can be, and a very typical example of the lack of resources and joined up thinking in government at the moment.
Everyone needs the long term consistency which just isn't there in government policy at the moment. How is any business supposed to plan when the government flip flops about like this? As Natural England's Tony Juniper says, it should be "meeting Nature targets while providing speed, simplicity & certainty for business". We are involved in some biodiversity net gain projects, for example, as required by current planning legislation. Are those requirements now likely to be dropped?
Sure, I can hear some say, a lot has changed. Current circumstances demand different policy responses. The challenges facing government are extraordinary. And yet, it seems they just don't understand a lot. Taking an ideological sledge hammer to a raft of environmental regulation might seem like a great headline in the Daily Express - bonfire of red tape etc - but it's utter stupidity. The right answers are complicated, holistic and long term.
I'm not sure what's behind this dramatic policy U-turn. This new lot could be naked ideologues, or moved by a hidden hand, or just plain incompetent. I suspect - as usual - a combination of all three. The Tories - despite the notionally large Conservative Environment Network - have seemingly been incredibly slow to understand their own polling research on the environment.
People care increasingly about nature and climate change, and you can see this in the polls. The RSPB, National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts, all of whom have issued statements roundly condemning recent developments, have a membership of around 8 million. Many of these folk are the kind of middle England voter the government is desperate to court.
Voters increasingly understand the desperate state of nature in this country, as well as the importance of fully embracing net zero. The fossil fuel crisis has a silver lining.
And this is the potential good news that might come out of this. People across a broad spectrum of interests and income groups - conservation NGOs, farmers, the renewable energy business, landowners, and lots and lots of voters - are very pissed off. There's no mandate for any of these radical new policies. Labour have jumped all over this with their green growth plan. It's an open goal.
It's ironic that our unelected King seems so much more in touch with the electorate than our unelected Prime Minister. Kwasi Kwarteng might be getting the message, though. There was panic in DEFRA on Friday, but two days later he said no environmental protections would be dropped*.
He has an intractable problem, however. Sorting out these issues is fiendishly complicated, potentially expensive in the short term, and not something that can be done through the private sector. Apparently the government wants to speed up the planning process, for example. How about increasing the budget for planning departments, rather than cutting planning requirements? If you want the Environment Agency to do what its supposed to do, then fund it properly. Action some of the National Food Strategy's recommendations.
The jury's still out on whether economic growth and the simultaneous improvement of our environment is achievable, but for the time being we must move heaven and earth to try for both, and protect nature at this critical moment. This means bigger government, not smaller, and investment in a green revolution. As Dave Goulson puts it:
Without nature, pollinators, healthy soils, birdsong, and a stable climate, even the richest amongst us will have nothing.
*liar, liar, pants on fire.