It appears than when it comes to privatisation and public opinion, the coalition government cannot see the forest for the trees.
In a Tory-led bid to push through plans to privatise substantial amounts of English woodland the current government has managed to propose a plan as widely unpopular as the privatisation of the railways was under the previous Conservative government; and at least that was a move which took 13 years of accumulated audacity to initiate. Indeed, a recent YouGov survey showed that the proposal, bizarrely purporting to “boost public control” but widely viewed as yet another scheme to increase profits and to tax-dodge at the expense of the people, is opposed by 84% of the public.
The proposed bill enables the sell-off of up to 100% of English forests, and gives the Secretary of State the power to dispose of significant amounts of forestry without needing to pass a vote through Parliament.
The implications for some of our most treasured natural beauty spots are devastating; even if the current government were to assure the British public that no such privatisation would currently take place (which, of course, they won’t), Clause 17 of the Public Bodies Bill gives any future government the freedom to privatise forests in England without any further reference to Parliament necessary.
This is a dreadful proposal. As MP Paul Flynn explained, “…my good friend the late David Taylor MP was a great promoter of the National Forest in England. The temptation is to dismiss this as 'the same old Tories”.
Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, has written to all Tory and Lib Dem MPs with public forestry in their constituencies urging them to back the Labour motion opposing the plans, stating that “…our public forests and woodlands are part of our national heritage... ...The wholesale sell off of England’s forests now proposed by your government was not mentioned in either your general election manifesto, of the coalition agreement. There is no political mandate for such a sale”.
Happily there is no threat to forests in Wales, thanks to the Welsh Assembly Government.
Elin Jones, Welsh rural affairs minister, has ruled out the widespread sale of Welsh woodlands, having told the press that she plans to “compensate” the public by buying new land for planting or management if any forest should indeed be sold. A report commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government recommended that a case-by-case approach should be taken to the future of Wales’ forests, but overall there would be no reduction in the size of Welsh forests in public possession.
This plan, should it be passed, would amount to nothing short of environmental vandalism, and is yet another demonstration of the Coalition’s arrogance and distance from the people’s values and priorities.
[Written by Cerian Jenkins, intern to MP Paul Flynn and author of Casteaways.com]
Another fine mess
One of the minor dramas at yesterday's meeting of PASC was the shiny, sparky naivety of Ms. Ghosh the new supremo of the Home Office.
She was lyrical about the new Tory gimmick of transparency on crime on our streets. Knowledge is power. Well, not always. She was unimpressed by my suggestion that it might increase fear of crime which is already a bigger problem than crime itself.
I hate to be a spoil sport when the the Tories are orgasmic with delight at their new wheeze but I still do not get it. We all look up our local crime details. We are all appalled at what is happening in our local neighbourhood. We ring our local police and demand action. So does everyone else in every other street.
The police tell us to come along to a neighbourhood meeting with them to vent our rage. We all do. They promise help. When the next crime occurs we ring the police to demand their attendance. They explain they cannot come. The cuts means there are fewer of them. The rest are fully engaged listening to complaints at neighbouring meeting. Result? Cynicism and disappointment. Built-up expectations come crashing down.
A happy gathering of people from Newport’s diverse minority communities demonstrated one of the city’s greatest strengths.
Last week, I repeatedly mentioned the Newport experience when trying to bridge the gap in perception between the Egyptian journalists and me. They saw the UK as hostile to muslims, out to plunder Iraq for fat contracts and denying fundamental rights.
I told them of the Newport schools where the day starts with prayers. The christian children joining their hands together in the Christian way, the muslims cupping theirs in their traditional manner. But, crucially, they are saying the same prayers. In a fortnight I will join other city representatives to mark the inauguration of a new burial grounds for the muslim community.
Newport has a long and honourable history as a melting pot for immigration from all corners of the world. One of my favourite stories that i frequently tell immigrant children is that 160 years ago, there was nobody in Newport with the alien names of Brennan, Murphy, Flynn or Touhig. Then starving economic immigrants arrived from Ireland. Now MPs from neighbouring constituencies in South Wales are called Brennan, Murphy,Flynn and Touhig. It will not take that long before we are represented by Ahmeds, Hayats or Mohammeds.
Saturday’s event was part of the work of Community First in assisting BME groups. This is a very welcome Welsh Assembly initiative to lubricate the process of happy community building.
Once confined to the Pillgwenlly and Maindee areas of Newport, growing prosperity has seen the resettlement of ethnic minority families in every corner of the city. Neil Kinnock once said that there was only one one black family in his Islwyn valley constituency. That was the local doctor. Expanding businesses, especially among the entrepreneurial Bangla Deshis, has seen the relocation in every valley town with new restaurants and corner shops
The new mayor of Newport Allan Morris gave a rousing welcome to the new initiative. He rejoiced in the city’s happy history of a melting pot of peaceful integration and joyous diversity.
Discontent only please
The sad decline of the Western Mail accelerates. Truth is mangled and intertwined with prejudice and fiction. All in the sacred cause of shoring up their collapsing circulation.
The propagandists have even taken over their their news quiz. Try these alternatives to the question. Has the Welsh Assembly spent enough on education:
How are these for alternatives? the Western Mail is running a poll on what people think of whether enough money is being spent on education. The possible answers allowed are:-
Yes, not that it seems to be having much effect Yes, but like the health service it's not targeted properly My wage slip says yes and I don't even have any evidence No, education is still woefully underfunded Not where I live apparently Don't know
The simple truth is that education spending has doubled to its highest level ever. No chance of a ‘write-in’ vote with a simple ‘Yes.’?
How about an alternative poll with this choice:-
Is the Western Mail crap?
Is the Western Mail utter crap?
Is the Western Mail the crappiest newspaper ever?
President Karzai’s issued a ‘cri de coeur’ on the increasing slaughter of Afghan civilians in the sacred cause of bringing the nation to democracy. Are we fated we repeat the follies of the french in Indo China, the Americans in Viet Nam, the Russians in Afghanistan/ Probably Yes. As a gentle reminder I put this Early Day motion down last week.
EDM 1738 DEATHS IN AFGHANISTAN
That this House records its sorrow at the deaths of 54 British soldiers in Afghanistan in the past 14 months and salutes their courage and professionalism; regrets the misplaced optimism of the belief that the Helmand mission could be over in three years `without firing a single shot'; notes that half a million rounds have already been fired and little reconstruction has been finished because of the absence of non-governmental organisations; calls for a reassessment of the Helmand mission; is appalled at the abject failure of the poppy eradication programme, which has resulted in record production and the lowest ever price of heroin on British streets; is convinced that the threat to destroy the main livelihood of the people of Helmand has incited murderous resentment against UK troops and increased both support for the Taliban and the threat of terrorism in the UK; and believes that the only practical reform would be to license poppy farmers to use their crops to end world shortages of morphine and codeine.