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Hares beware - a early action of the new Conservative government is expected to be a repeal of the Hunting with Dogs Act, opening the way to hare-coursing in the English countryside. Photo: oneshotonepic via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Hares beware - a early action of the new Conservative government is expected to be a repeal of the Hunting with Dogs Act, opening the way to hare-coursing in the English countryside. Photo: oneshotonepic via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
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Green crap is coming our way - so let's be prepared!

Oliver Tickell

11th May 2015

As Cameron appoints his cabinet, we had better get prepared for the 'green crap' that's about to be unleashed on us, writes Oliver Tickell - the return of fox-hunting, badger-culling, road building and nuclear power, the arrival of GM food and crops, more cuts to wind and solar power and the underfunding of home insulation.

With Liz Truss remaining in place as environment secretary, badger culling is also certain to continue. But the Tories may now feel emboldened to roll out culling more widely regardless of the scientific evidence.

The coalition government was never popular. But it did have one thing to be said for it: it represented, however imperfectly, a majority of UK voters.

In 2010 36.1% voted Tory and 23% for the LibDems, meaning that the coalition was elected by almost 60% of those that voted.

Now we have a single party government elected by just 37% of voters (and just under a quarter of the electorate), unfettered by any need to secure broader support. So for those of us now used to a more balanced coalition government, a shock is coming ...

Farming and countryside

One big change that's coming up - and probably sooner rather than later - is the repeal of the 2008 Hunting with Dogs Act, which outlawed fox-hunting and hare-coursing.  Cameron has nailed his colours to the mast on the 'country sports' issue and there's probably no stopping him.

With Liz Truss remaining in place as environment secretary, badger culling is also certain to continue. But the Tories may now feel emboldened to roll out culling more widely regardless of the scientific evidence indicating that the policy is at best very marginally effective.

Also, expect more pressure to build on the countryside, including the Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the further dismantling of the already inadequate protections the planning system affords, as the existing policy to make economic growth the over-riding objective is developed yet more aggressively.

We also know that the Tories are keen to press ahead with genetically modified 'GMO' crops in England, and that new EU regulations will make this possible in fairly short order, along with GMO foods. With no legal means to prevent the rollout of GMO foods and crops, the main hope for environmentalists is to press retailers not to sell them, and to convince farmers not to grow them.

We may well also see a further attempt to sell off government land and forests. The top-down forced sell-off of Forestry Commission (FC) land proved an unpopular policy even among the Conservatives' own supporters in rural constituencies, so they probably won't try that again.

More likely they will just leave agencies from the FC to National Park Authorities so underfunded as to force them to sell off their landholdings on a harder to track, piecemeal basis.

The one area where good things may happen is with marine protection - not in British waters, but far away in the UK's sprawling Overseas Dependent Territories. Recently the government created a huge marine reserve around the Pitcairn islands. Next, Ascension Island?

Outside the EU

The EU is responsible for plenty of bad stuff, but for plenty of good stuff too. The existence of powerful EU legislation on the environment - the Birds Directive, Habitats & Species Directive, Water Framework Directive, the Air Quality Directive, and the Waste Directive to name but a few - has provided an important defence against the Tories' desire to deregulate and de-protect.

Although Cameron says he does not want to leave the EU, many of his back-benchers do, and they have forced him into promising a referendum which could take place as soon as 2016. The outcome wil probably be decided by the media coverage and Rupert Murdoch at least wants out.

Result - there's a significant risk that we may find ourselves out of the EU and suddenly all that wildlife and environmental law will no longer apply.

But so long as we are in the EU, we can expect the UK to play an broadly anti-environment role - supporting the weakening of environmental laws like the Habitats Directive, favouring 'free trade' deals like TTIP, loosening regulation on GMOs, pesticides, and pollution. And of course, resisting efforts to reform the Common Fisheries Policy and keep fishing quotas within sustainable limits.

Transport - roads to nowhere

It's now certain that the government will press ahead with major environmentally destructive transport infrastructure projects. These include the ridiculous boondoggle that is the HS2 high speed railway line from London to Birmingham, and a greatly expanded road building / improving programme.

And let's not forget - a new runway somewhere in the south east. It may well not be at Heathrow - after all that's strongly opposed by a couple of Cameron's Eton chums, Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson, both MPs in west London. My guess is it will end up going to Gatwick.

And of course with most of the transport budget lavished on roads and high-speed rail, there will be precious little left for small scale, sustainable local transport improvements, cycle lanes, local bus services, etc.

Energy and climate

Today's appointment of Amber Rudd to DECC, the department of energy and climate change, looks like good news in the circumstances. She accepts the scientific concensus on climate change, and recognises the huge damage it's set to cause.

Doubtless she will 'put up a good show' in the Paris climate talks later this year. And she's not about the repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act as many Tory backbenchers would like.

But how much will really change on the ground? At some point the government will probably have to withdraw from the disastrous Hinkley C nuclear project, and the sooner the better. if and when that happens, it will only be to clear the decks and move ahead with alternative designs of nuclear reactor that are not quite so terminally hopeless as the EPR planned for Hinkley.

Rudd is also unlikely to relent on Conservative hostility to Britain's two cheapest renewable energy sources - onshore wind and field-scale solar, both of which have been starved of resources. And even if she tries to, her ambitions will probably be thwarted by the Treasury and the planning system.

Insulating homes - another no-brainer for creating jobs, reducing emissions, raising living standards, making life more affordable for people on low incomes, and reducing the dominance of the Big Six - will be under-funded, while the zero-carbon homes initiative will remain watered-down

The Tories' manifesto promise was to insulate 1 million homes over the next five years. That may sound like a lot, but as we have the least efficient housing stock in Europe it's nowhere near enough.

Then as for fracking, underground coal gasification, and all that, we can only expect the most rapid possible development of oil and gas resources. Our best hope is that investors decide that unconventional hydrocarbons in the UK are an expensive gamble that's not worth taking.

In fact, DECC's whole policy arena is one where the absence of the LibDems probably won't make a huge difference - because, seduced by mininsterial status, they were only implementing Tory policies anyway.

Constitutional trickery

We know that the Tories are keen to push through a fast-track 'constitutional reform' which will give Scotland some greater autonomy, while solidifying their control of England.

The main mechanism they will use to achieve the latter is 'English votes for English laws' (EVEL). That is, to pass a low that excludes MPs from parts of the UK with devolved powers, from voting on laws that apply only to England.

And this does matter - because these 'English laws' are likely to include planning, energy, farming, forestry and other matters with powerful environmental implications.

The EVEL idea does have a certain superficial logic. But that's not why the Tories like it. They like it because it could, thanks to their political dominance in England, give them the power to legislate for England even under a future coalition or Labour government of the UK.

But there is a serious flaw: the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all elected by proportional representation. This means that any government must, in effect, represent the wishes of a majority of voters.

But under EVEL, England would be stuck on the manifestly unfair First Past the Post system, which can give absolute power to a party elected on barely over a third of the votes.

Second, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are presiding over far fewer people. If we are to have any form of 'devolution' to England from the UK, this needs to go far beyond EVEL to encompass the aspirations of English citizens for a greater say in their cities and regions.

Elected by just under 25% of the electorate of the UK, the current government clearly has no mandate to embark on far-reaching constitutional reform in the absence of a broad, inclusive and representative process, or 'constitutional convention'. If they try, they must be challenged and the exercise denounced as illegitimate and an abuse of democracy.

 


 

Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.

 

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