According to the statistics from WordPress, people from 110 countries looked at this blog last year. This means that readers in 109 of those countries might have little interest in my promise to cover the environmental implications of this year’s UK general election on 5 May; however, a promise is a promise, so bear with me for a few minutes.
Here are a few points to watch out for when the manifestos start appearing in a couple of months:
- What will happen to the UK environment if we vote in parties that want to leave the EU? This will be one of the key battlegrounds of the forthcoming campaign but, curiously, I don’t think there will be immediate negative effects arising from a decision to leave the EU. This is because all EU environmental legislation has already been transposed into UK law and provides the framework that underpins how we manage the environment. However, belonging to the EU means that the UK has to fulfil a number of obligations, which has protected some aspects of environmental regulation from the worst ravages of the public sector cuts over the past few years.
- Leaving the EU will make the environment vulnerable to manifesto pledges to reduce red tape. Whilst I recognise the need to keep businesses competitive, we need to recognise that what one person sees as sensible regulation of the environment may be perceived by someone else as unnecessary bureaucracy and, therefore, ripe for repeal. Less regulation will encourage businesses to externalize their environmental costs which may look good on their profit and loss accounts in the short-term, but will have longer term consequences. I also doubt that UKIP’s promise to “negotiate a bespoke trade agreement with the EU” will have any chance of success if the environmental costs of this trade are not taken into consideration.
- A bigger challenge in the short-term is the state of the economy and the resulting squeeze on public spending, as I have already mentioned (see “When Right is not right”). What we need to look for in the party manifestos is creative thinking about how to manage the environment with fewer resources. Don’t be suckered by weasel words about increasing “efficiency”. The public sector is already working at full stretch and any further “efficiency” can only mean that less can be done.
- Watch out, too, for words about increased spending on flood defence. There are situations around the country where improvements to flood defences are needed but also, I suspect, marginal constituencies where the memories of flooding are raw enough for such promises to deliver votes (see “More about floods …”). However, because flood defence is a function of the Environment Agency, we will need to read the small print of any such promises to make sure that this is not funded by a redistribution of budget that would result in less money for environmental protection.
- And, finally, climate change will feature in most manifestos at some point. UKIP are, at least, refreshingly frank about their intention to repeal the Climate Change Act . However, I have concerns about policy towards climate change across all the major parties. As for flood defence, it is not that I don’t think that something should be done; rather that we need to watch that steps to mitigate climate change are not made at the expense of dealing with other environmental problems. I have a suspicion that politicians like climate change because the timescales are such that they reap the rewards of bold policy initiatives without running the risk of being judged on the results. We will need to unpack the rhetoric within all the manifestos to make sure that the politicians are focussed on the here and now and not just showboating.
I have already declared myself as being pro-Europe (see “What has the European Union ever done for us?”) but, otherwise, I go into the election campaign undecided about how to vote. I will be reading all the manifestos with interest …
Normal service will resume in the next post.