A Conservative Try
Today, Theresa May endeavoured to outline her 25-year plan for the environment. I sat eagerly listening, waiting for her to ‘get going’ and really pad out the shiny words that she began with. Sadly, she concluded her speech without any real content, which basically translated as ‘the environment is being kicked into the long grass’.
May isn’t the best public speaker. She constantly looks distinctly uncomfortable, like she needs to rush off to the loo. Her lack of warmth and faux sincerity is evident, as she attempts shaky humour within her addresses. She was introduced to the waiting audience at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, by the environment secretary, Michael Gove, who also looks quite out of his depth on the public stage and has an air of mendacity lurking around him.
The main footing for May’s speech, predominantly on plastic pollution, was revealed earlier on Wednesday, perhaps too early, as this left the plan wide-open to criticism from several environmental NGOs and politicians as being lacking in depth and without substance.
The naysayers weren’t disappointed.
May opened her speech about the environment being a “central priority” for the UK government. This isn’t terribly truthful in reality, however.
Theresa May’s Conservative government favours a suicidal approach to climate change and the UK’s energy needs, prioritising fossil fuel extraction, slashing green and renewable subsidies, and dismissing prudent and necessary investments into clean energy schemes. How she believes that the environment is ‘central’ to Tory policy, is anyone’s guess.
In 2016, May backed the expansion of Heathrow, Europe’s biggest airport, following many years of dithering within government, ignoring all research on noise, climate change implications and local community health and impacts.
This controversial backing of Heathrow’s new runway, lost her the MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, who resigned, citing the scheme as the “most polluting, most disruptive, most expensive option”. (He was later re-elected in 2017’s Snap Election).
Incredibly, May enthused about previous Conservative governments’ successes on the environment:
“A Conservative government in the 1950s passed the Clean Air Act, making the Great Smog of London a thing of the past.”
But she must have forgotten the current air pollution crisis in London, where ClientEarth took the Tories to court over the escalating levels of toxic air. Air pollution is thought to be responsible for 40,000 deaths a year in the UK. A legal battle, with the third court case against the government, is still ongoing due to government inaction.
May continued her speech, claiming that her mission of: “Protecting and enhancing our natural environment for the next generation…is a fundamental Conservative principle.”
Without even a hint of irony.
Her line of: “Conservatism and Conservation are natural allies” really made me chuckle. For the UK Conservative government, this can’t be further from the truth. Big business, and big polluting business at that, always comes before the environment, despite May’s promise on her very first day as prime minister when she stated:
“When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful but you. When we pass new laws, we’ll listen not to the mighty, but you.”
However, just three months after this mawkish attempt at assuaging the public, the UK government overruled Lancashire County Council’s refusal of a fracking application, giving ‘the mighty’ Cuadrilla, a gifted land-grab pass to frack on the rural Fylde Coast.
May sounded almost genuine when she spoke of creating “a new Northern Forest”, stretching across the counties of Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, which will “act as a carbon sink for the UK.” Until you remember that the Tories’ are on a rabid pursuit of the Northern Poorhouse Powerhouse, in all of its exploiting, fracking glory.
Even the build-up to the May’s speech with the media coverage of ‘action on plastics’ amounted to very little, with the speech having negligible value on anything that could be construed as actionable or that would have an impact on the plastic crisis that we are facing in the UK and globally.
Theresa May also omitted praise for any environmental NGO for their campaign work against plastic pollution, instead choosing to blow sunshine up the behind of the hate-mongering rag, Daily Mail:
“And I also pay tribute to the Daily Mail for its tireless campaigning on this issue.”
Our environment and climate are in a critical state of poor health. All the 25-year plans in the world won’t save it, without the backing of solid and bold actions. Glossy oratory is meaningless without the political punch behind it to make it happen.
The lack of joined-up environmental thinking in Theresa May’s speech today, and the Conservatives’ desperate but failed attempts at wooing the younger voters have overridden any hope of May being taken seriously as a leading environmental champion.
Instead, the Tories continue on their path of double-speak. With continued austerity and savage cuts to every public sector still being driven hard by the government, a bland environmental ‘plan’ without a coherent action strategy is just empty rhetoric.