Certainly when you read some of what Gove has to say it come as a welcome change from listening to the foolish and damaging prattlings of the President of the United States. Here are something of the contents of his speech that any Green would have been proud to have said:
- “we’ve allowed extractive and exploitative political systems to lay waste to natural resources and we’ve placed species of plants and animals in new and mortal danger while gambling with the future health of the whole world.
- climate change, the build-up of toxins in our soil, air and oceans and the spiralling level of resource consumption, waste generation and demand for energy all threaten human progress in the future.
- I deeply regret President Trump’s approach towards the Paris Agreement on Climate Change
- Science, technology, computational power are critical to shaping our future but if we imagine they can liberate us from the need to safeguard our environment, to protect the species we share this planet with, to protect and purify our air and our oceans, to keep our earth fertile and ensure that we can renew our natural resources, then we will have succumbed to the hubris which has wrought such devastation in the past
- alongside encouraging greater bio-diversity and the way in which farmers manage their land, I also want to see higher standards across the board of animal welfare”
So cynicism is never an entirely misplaced reaction when Ministers make a commitment to the environment. The good news is that Gove does tend to be a conviction politician. The bad news is what his convictions are. In the Department for Education he proved remarkably unwilling to listen to advice and phenomenally convinced of the depths of his own wisdom. He took the view that teachers were not to be trusted to decide what was taught and schools needed to be free from democratic control. That was why he ploughed forward with daft ideological policies like Free Schools long after it became evident that most were being built in the wrong places and so were a waste of money. His conviction that groups of private citizens must be better able to run a school than a local authority was so strong that he even allowed bizarre religious groups to segregate our children and subject them to some very strange notions of education. Then he tried to take climate change off the Geography curriculum & insisted on emphasising “traditional” learning. Before campaigning for Brexit and heading off to the States to get himself photographed holding two thumbs up alongside his hero Donald Trump.
All of which leads me to make the following predictions of what Gove is actually going to do:
- He will talk a lot about Green Brexit. He will even recast farm subsidies so more money goes towards supporting more environmentally sensitive farm practices. At the same time he will back to the hilt a new trade deal with the US. That deal will mean factory farmed foodstuffs drenched in antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides will come into this country and drive farmers either out of business or into much worse agricultural practices. Any attempts to resist this by decisions in the UK sovereign parliament will be beaten down by US Corporate Lawyers at international courts of law that can over-ride the UK government.
- He will talk a lot about the Government’s Green Growth Plan. Then the government will waste a lot of money investing in wrongheaded projects like Hinkley Point whilst banning new onshore windfarms. Huge subsidies will go into keeping North Sea Oil flowing, fracking will be forced on communities that don’t want it whilst unfashionable but effective policies like improved energy conservation will be neglected. The UK government will make a great deal of fuss about investing a small amount of money in promising areas of green technology like energy storage whilst utterly failing to help British industry to re-engineer itself to take advantage of the scale of the opportunities that are opening up in a completely new era of green industry.
- There will be much talk about better environmental practices. Then the chemical companies will lobby him and the large landowners will lobby him and the country will remain over dependent on over use of pesticides on mile long fields.
- He will grab for vote winning initiatives like removing microbeads from some products or encouraging bottle return schemes. Meanwhile our consumption of plastic products will continue to rise and we will continue to throw most of it away.
- He will talk a lot about using the power of science and technology to effect change at the same time as weakening UK universities with controls over foreign students and pulling them out of EU research collaborations.
He wants to become the farmers friend and the friend of those conservatives who are genuinely interested in conserving the countryside. He thinks he can restore his credibility by talking up every area of environmental policy where the EU failed whilst ignoring its successes in driving up collective standards. He doesn’t want us to notice that he is busily leading us into new trade deals which will do extreme harm to the environment by leaving us at the mercy of a race to the bottom.
Essentially his job is to quieten down the worries of people in farming until after Brexit has become inevitable. And then hope he has been moved on to another Ministerial post by the time the cheap food starts to flood in from America and those farmers who are left in business get driven to distraction by filling in customs paperwork every time they try to sell their products anywhere in the EU.
Every now and then it is very nice to be proved wrong. This is one of those occasions when I really hope I am. I would love to trust Mr. Gove and to believe that we finally do have a Conservative Politician who understands the scale of the environmental challenge and is keen to lead the changes that are necessary. For now I will stick to my better judgement.
Never trust a politician who has already lied to you. It rarely turns out well!