Two ex-advisers have slammed the Conservative government over its environmental record. The criticisms from one of them, an ex-adviser to the Foreign Office, cut particularly deep. That’s partly because the climate crisis is one of the most important issues in this election. But it’s also because he identified a dangerous and damaging style of governance that could make people think twice about trusting the Conservatives with their vote on 12 December.
“It’s been done by stealth”
As the Guardian reported, the two ex-advisers to speak out against the Conservatives’ record are scientist David King and head of environmental thinktank E3G Tom Burke. King, who the Guardian describes as a “key government adviser on the climate crisis until 2017”, said he wouldn’t give the Conservatives a “pass mark” for their handling of the climate crisis. He continued:
The government has completely taken its eye off delivery and it has not been as consistent as it needed to be. If there isn’t support across the board from No 10, then it’s not going to happen.
The Conservatives are trying to be greener than the other parties, but I wonder just how much we can trust the Conservative party leadership at the moment.
Trust also came up as an issue in Burke’s comments. He has previously advised three Conservative environment secretaries and said of the party’s tactics:
The current government has systematically weakened the capacity of this country to manage its environment. It’s been done by stealth.
They have taken a lesson, I suspect quite consciously, from the libertarian right in the US that you won’t win the argument about weakening environmental standards, so you don’t argue it. What you do is you weaken the capacity to make them effective.
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To illustrate his point, Burke raised successive Conservative governments’ budget cuts for the Environment Agency and Natural England. Between 2010/11 and 2016/17, the Environment Agency faced cuts of 55%. Natural England had cuts of 60% between 2009/10 and 2016/17. The ex-adviser also said the government had “systematically reduced” the independence of these bodies.
Cloak and dagger
Burke’s point about the Conservatives weakening the UK’s environmental management by “stealth” is an important one. Because it’s part of a wider pattern. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and others have accused Conservative governments of privatising the NHS via the same method. In 2011, for example, professor Bob Hudson wrote of the then government’s NHS reforms:
the slipperiness of the NHS bill is that it stealthily advances the privatisation of healthcare on several fronts. It does this in primary care, in community health services, and in commissioning – all of it concealed behind the publically trusted NHS logo.
Meanwhile, current PM Boris Johnson has expressed his interest in further reforms of the NHS. NHS England is currently run by Simon Stevens, who Johnson said helped him secure his first ever elected office at university.
A matter of trust
A government that introduces policies and changes by stealth isn’t an honest one. The tactic suggests that a) it doesn’t respect the opinions of its voters, b) it doesn’t intend to listen to them either, and c) it’s intent on hiding both those facts from the general public. In the case of the Conservatives, the party is using such cloak and dagger techniques to make damaging changes to environmental and health policy.
Given the current crisis in both the climate and the NHS, we don’t have time or space for these antics. We need a government that is willing and able to put the interests of people and planet first.
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