My pre-election review of the environmental policies on offer continues with an overview of the parties who are likely to hold the balance of power if, as is predicted, no-one has an outright majority. In this post, I’ll look at UKIP, the Green Party and the Lib Dems. After that, I’ll consider the regional parties.
UKIP first. For anyone with an interest in environmental policy this is a no-brainer. As I wrote back in December, leaving the EU would be a disaster for the environment (see “What has the European Union ever done for us?“). Repealing the Climate Change Act, whatever they regard it’s faults to be, also sends out the wrong signals when the great majority of scientists are convinced that major changes in climate are taking place.
Surprisingly, the Green Party do not do very much better, in my opinion. The problem, here, is not the insistence on sidestepping any issue beyond a few core dogmas, as UKIP do, but a propensity for vague generalisations lacking in detail. It may seem odd to say this when the Greens devote so much of their manifesto to the environment and climate, but it is a frustrating read, stuffed with good intentions but short on practicality. Here’s an example: “Because of the interaction between water supply and the wider environment, require Ofwat … and the Environment Agency to work together to create a healthy water environment and long-term low prices for consumers.” That is pretty much what happens at present, so what, exactly, are the Greens offering other than a continuation of the status quo? What is more worrying is that, tucked away in the financial appendix, we see that the Green’s plans are, in part, funded by “efficiency savings on base government expenditure”. No guarantee, then, that Ofwat and the Environment Agency will actually get any more funding to work towards this healthy water environment.
And, finally, what about the Liberal-Democrats? Their standings in the polls are not good, and many feel that they are tainted by their involvement in the coalition. Reneging on 2010 promises about university tuition fees leaves a bitter taste for many but perhaps we in the UK are not yet fully attuned to the give-and-take of coalition politics? If anything, I think that the Lib-Dem manifesto has a pragmatism borne from their experience in government. There is less rhetorical grandstanding than in some of the manifestos, and a clearer sense of the steps needed to translate dogma into practice. They recognise the important role that the EU plays in creating environmental law, and that working at this level helps to maintain the UK’s competitiveness. I was particularly taken by the proposal to set up a commission to research back-to-nature flood prevention schemes. As I have mentioned before (see “Beware the modern day Cnuts”), political meddling did not help during the 2014 floods and removing the issue to an independent body seems to be a sensible way forward.
All manifesto statements about the environment have to be read with a healthy degree of scepticism. If we assume that the major battle will be over the economy and the deficit, and remember that the NHS and education expenditure are ring-fenced, then the room for manoeuvre during coalition negotiations becomes very limited. Proposals from the minor parties will, moreover, have to dovetail with the political philosophy of the major party in a coalition (so any proposals involving greater European collaboration, for example, will be less likely to succeed if the Tories win). Proposals that require significant expenditure are also less likely to be part of a coalition agreement than those that are cheap to fulfil. Yet it is unrealistic to expect significant improvements to the state of the UK’s environment if our statutory bodies are not properly funded. All of which leads me to suggest that the best thing to do right now is to enjoy the soothing, optimistic words of the manifestos. Because delivery is going to be a whole different, and far more uncertain, game.