The recent Cabinet reshuffle saw Environment Secretary Owen Paterson lose his job. Judging by his comments immediately after this is no bad thing. He described parts of the environmental movement as ‘the green blob’ and is quoted as accusing them of being in league with renewable energy companies and public officials, who, amongst other things ‘ keep each other well supplied with lavish funds ’, and ‘ do real harm while profiting handsomely’ .
These are astounding ideas. I have been involved with environmental groups for many years, and the notion that they have lavish funds to disburse, or profit handsomely from their activities is laughable, especially when compared to the corporate sector. He also said the organisations concerned were ‘ unelected busybodies’ , although how this makes them different to farmers’ organisations, pesticide companies and conventional energy companies is not clear. At least environmental organisations represent millions of members, and have no financial interest in influencing the Minister, which is more than can be said for the others.
There was a time when ministers were the champions of their department’s interest. They listened to, and considered, all shades of opinion in relation to their brief. This process is partly what defines our pluralist society. His comments reveal that Paterson has no understanding of this at all. He not only ignored, but objected to, the impartial advice and expertise being offered by not for profit organisations in the environmental and nature conservation field.
When I was lobbying and advising in and around Whitehall there was mutual respect and politeness between the parties. Whatever the political differences, issues were discussed and decisions, good and bad, were generally made in the light of evidence and in good faith. It seems that in Paterson’s case this was not so: at best he has acted in bad faith, at worse he cynically disregarded what was being said by a sector acting legitimately, and with integrity, but against which he had taken.
His successor, Liz Truss, has only a few months before the next election to repair the damage left by her predecessor. I hope she is a better listener and tries to do so, although the signs are not good. She seems to have no experience or expertise in environmental matters.
In the meantime I for one am proud to be part of ‘the green blob’.