Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | January 17, 2011

The Government Has no Concept of the Opposition it has Begun to Stir

Here is an article from the Independent by Johann Hari on the scandal that is occurring in Britain. I have highlighted some key points by changing the text to bold. What fools these people are who gain power to make such outrageous decisions!

For sale – Cameron’s green credentials by Johann Hari

Can you hear the silence of the huskies? When he was rebranding the Tory party, David Cameron promised us he would lead “the greenest government ever”. Since he came to power, he has broken every environmental promise he made – and then gone much further. He has opened up the coasts of Britain to the deep-sea drilling that worked so well in the Gulf of Mexico, and put a “for sale” sign outside every single remaining forest in England. Yes, as his own Environment minister puts it, Cameron is determined to “dispose of public forest” – and the timber companies and holiday parks are preparing their opening bids.

In order to raise £2bn, the Government is selling all 650,000 acres of our forests – a privatisation that even Margaret Thatcher blanched at. These are the most popular outdoor spaces in Britain. They are the last places where millions of people can go to escape their anxieties and glimpse what Britain looked like to our ancestors for millions of years. They are the site of some of our most potent national myths: what would Robin Hood say if he knew Sherwood Forest itself was now on the market? Is Cameron really taking the Sheriff of Nottingham as his role model? This is in direct contradiction to what Cameron told us he would do before the election. In 2007, talking about forests, he promised he would “take a more effective and strategic approach to safeguarding a priceless – and irreplaceable – natural asset.” He said the countries that were cutting forests down were “barmy”. The Government says there is no danger to the forests in selling them to timber companies and the other highest bidders. They say they will still be standing, they will be cared for as well, and the public will have just as much access. Does this match the facts?

It is true that once a company has bought a forest, it will still need planning permission to cut the woods down. This is a crucial brake. But – wait – Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has just announced he is “remov[ing] the structures of control” and making it “much easier” to get planning permission across the country. Planning is being massively deregulated, just as the forests are sold.

Not every buyer will cut them down, but some will. Why do the Tories think timber companies want to buy them – to abandon the work they do in every other country on earth and become druids? Confronted with this point, the Government admits there is a “possibility of established forest being bought by energy companies who would proceed to chip it all for energy recovery” – and then swiftly insists there is nothing to worry about.

The forests that remain will be less well maintained and harder to access. The Forestry Commission looks after our woods today, and 100 per cent of it is maintained to the international Forest Stewardship Standard. By contrast, only 25 per cent of private forests in England are looked after this way. After the sale, they will become more degraded, less biodiverse and less likely to survive for the long term.

And you will find it harder to get to them. The Government says that the legislation passed in 2000 granting us all the “right to roam” will mean we can enjoy them just the same. But the public only has a right to access woodland classified as “freehold”. According to The Ecologist magazine, half of privately owned woodland is barred to the public.

It gets worse still. The Forestry Commission works very hard to make our woods accessible to everyone. It builds car parks, bike tracks, visitor centres, picnic areas. When the land is privatised, most of that will go. They can put a massive fence around the forest, they just can’t put up a sign that says “keep out”. Look at what happened to Riggs Woods in the Lake District, sold a few months ago. The car park has been shut down, the picnic area has been dismantled, the visitors’ centre closed, and all you see when you go there now is a large, bolted gate that, legally, you are allowed to clamber over. And for what? To preserve our forests costs just 30p per taxpayer a year. Selling them off for ever will raise just half of the sum that one corporation – Vodafone – did not have to pay after the Tories came to power out of what Private Eye estimated was its total tax liability. (Vodafone denies this figure). So if you go down to the woods today, you’ll find the best metaphor for Cameronism. Change your party’s logo to a lovely green tree – then sell off all the real trees to corporations. Oh, and then say you are “empowering volunteers” by doing it.

The Prime Minister has said the forest sell-off “empowers local communities” to take over the forests for themselves as part of a “Big Society”. Yet sources within the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs say that, unsurprisingly, only about 1 per cent of the sales are anticipated to go to local co-operatives or green groups. The “Big Society” is a fluffy fig leaf for dismantling and demolition.

But, amazingly, this may not be the biggest environmental vandalism of the Cameron years. The Conservatives have just authorised the launching of deep-water drilling off the coast of Shetland. The White House investigations are only now uncovering quite how disastrous this tactic was in the Gulf of Mexico – but it would be worse in the Shetlands, where the very harsh, cold and windy conditions would make a clean-up dramatically harder and more expensive. It would have to be bigger too: Chevron has admitted that if things went wrong it would release 77,000 barrels of oil a day – 25 per cent more than went into the Gulf.

The Health and Safety Executive warned that serious accidents on British oil rigs almost doubled last year. These are the very warning signs that preceded the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Even if the oil is excavated “safely”, it will then release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and destabilise our climate even more, which doesn’t sound very safe to me. As if that wasn’t enough, Cameron has also authorised drilling for shale gas off the coast at Blackpool – an extremely controversial practice that is suspected by many scientists of poisoning water supplies at several sites in the US.

Britain’s forests and seas do not belong to David Cameron. They belong to us. As Bill Hobman, the former chairman of Forest of Dean District Council, says: “Mr Cameron should show us the deeds to the forest. How can they sell something they don’t own?… This is a wonderful part of the world and shouldn’t be auctioned off to the highest bidder to have their own little bit of heaven. We will fight this all the way.” The fightback will be ferocious, and, like the inspiring fight against super-rich tax-dodgers, it unites people from the Tory shires with amazing left-wing activist groups like 38 Degrees.

This is a fight about what we value as a country. Do we want to preserve Britain’s most beautiful places – forests and seas that were alive for our distant ancestors, and should be alive for our distant descendants – or do we want a few rich corporations to make a little bit more money from destroying them? David Cameron has made his choice. Now we need to make ours.

Thank you Johann for writing this. You are right – the fight back will be ferocious. Up and down the country individuals and groups, activists and just plain ordinary folk who love their country and their countryside are making their plans.


Responses

  1. At which point will people actually finally say that they have had enough and do something about it? This Government is eroding so much of this country, and so many of its’ institutions, but doing it so deviously that many are not aware of their full impact…

  2. I just can’t bear it…what are we going to do if this happens? How do we get these people out of power? We all have to band together with our collective consciousness to over come the blatant megalomania…

  3. I cannot fathom the sheer horrific feel of this .. without our contact with mother earth, and the special places we can retreat to ? This makes me feel saddened, angry and almost desolate. We must join together as has been said, time to stand true and fight!

  4. Best quote: ‘Is Cameron really taking the Sheriff of Nottingham as his role model?’

  5. Is your Cameron taking lessons from the late, great George W. Bush? Our precious Mother cannot take much more of this.

  6. Can’t Prince Charles and the Royal family do something about This?? Charlie is such an Eco warrior normally. I have lived in Australia for nearly 7 years and memories of British Forestry are some of the best….it’s all a bit crazy from where I’m sitting :(

  7. It is very difficult to believe governments because their sentiments change with a whim. If you don’t believe it, ask my many great grandmother Margaret Pole. Oh yes, you can’t, since she was beheaded in the tower because her son spoke out against the King. How can WE buy these valuable areas instead?????

  8. Let’s stay calm and centred and peaceful inside this tormado ! I’d like to see information on this subject written by someone else.

  9. Oh come on…. I feel compelled to express my objection to such sensationalist drivel!
    Whilst it is certainly commendable to take such an active interest in the sustainability of our environment, this article is noting other than pure spin and a gross over reaction to the actual reality of the matter. And it is quite unnecessary to edify its content by highlight key paragraphs.
    So what’s my problem with it? Quite apart from the unnecessary asinine personal attack on David Cameron as though he is some evil mastermind solely responsible for all government proposals, the article itself is a factual distortion of the truth.

    Some key points the article overlooks is that the UK has to import 75% of the wood it consumes each year. I saw no mention of the environmental impact that shipping wood from other parts of the world currently has. Indeed this might in some part explain why an oil rig off Shetland is needed to obtain the fuel to run these ships. I am willing to bet that Johann Hari is no stranger to the odd piece of wood made furniture around his home.

    Furthermore the Druids would have you believe these are all ancient forests, but no… Back in 1919, when the Forestry Commission was established after the first world war to create a strategic timber reserve, just 4% of the UK was covered in woodland, now it’s about 12%.

    Like running any business (especially one in financial crisis) you rely on a flow of ideas to solve the myriad of problems involved in running a country, some may be crazy and impractical, but then some might work. The key phrase overlooked here is that the government is ‘considering’ this idea. It certainly doesn’t mean that the decision has been or indeed will be made. However, to further add conspiracy theories into the mix such as planning permission being relaxed purposefully to allow developers to cut it all down is just unhelpful propaganda, and really doesn’t stimulate a sensible adult debate.

    This is a classic example of the Green movement’s Achilles heel…. adopting such a knee-jerked sanctimonious reaction like this ends up making it more difficult to take their valuable input seriously.

    So…. whilst the idea to sell some of the forest may arguably be short-sighted, the truth is that it is highly unlikely that any buyers will be given permission to fell or build. Perhaps the Druids and the Greens could form a collective to buy these forests (whilst helping to save the economy at the same time) – Now there’s an idea!

  10. Hello Miramar!
    The issue of how much wood is consumed in the UK is a separate one to the issue we’re looking at here, but I think you’re right to stress the point that we’re not talking about a decision here but a plan that has been mooted. But that’s the way these things seem to work: an idea is ‘floated’ to see what the reaction is. If enough people jump up and down and scream then it is withdrawn. If noone seems to be bothered it is pushed ahead. What about Iraq you might say – millions jumped up and down and marched and it made no difference. But any politician in the UK must remember Thatcher and the Poll Tax fiasco… The idea of Druids buying forest is a great one. We’re thinking of approaching successful businesses in New Zealand to see if they will help out the Motherland with donations…

  11. I’m delighted to see your keen interest in my suggestion that the Druids purchase these forests. However you’d therefore be placed in a conflict of interest if you were to proceed with your protest against the proposed sale. Of course we would gladly take up your request to help you, were it not for our own investments being tied up in lucrative New Zealand forestry. However, when that eventually gets chopped down and shipped off to sweat factories in Indonesia to make some interestingly named coffee tables for the UK market, we might certainly consider a donation towards your worthy cause.
    Meanwhile… it is with grave concern you that intend to ‘jump up and down screaming’!!!! – you’re not as spritely as you were back in good old Maggie days to which you fondly refer! Perhaps you should consider switching to the more sedate pace of The Telegraph.
    Yours, under the Kowhai!

  12. I came so close to voting for the Green Party, even if it would have been more of a statement than a practical choice, but it really looked like we finally had a mainstream party that knew what it was doing…

    What went wrong? I refuse to believe that a man who fought against traditional Conservative values for so long would just do an about-face when he finally had the chance to put his party’s past mistakes behind them.

    Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…

  13. This government has already demonstrated a willingness to concede to public opinion, with its shifts on school sports and booktrust – although neither was the complete about-turn many would have wanted.

    So outcry is completely worth our while, and now it’s hitting the mainstream media, things are definitely looking up.


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