At the end of March, the Brown regime announced plans to further nationalise the control of development in Wessex. Those who thought local opinion could not be sidelined any more than it is already will be sorely disappointed.
Remember that when Labour took office in 1997 it inherited sweeping powers to interfere in local decision-making. Whitehall could direct councils to change their planning policies, and could over-rule specific decisions through the iniquitous appeals system. It still can do all of this but this was not enough.
In 2004, Labour abolished the right of councils to approve their own planning policies. At local level, these are now subject to approval by an unelected civil servant, who has to act within the framework of national policy and new regional plans. Regional assemblies – composed mainly of councillors but with a significant non-democratic element – have responsibility for drawing up the latter. But not the power. The Secretary of State has to approve the draft, with whatever changes he or she likes.
Now the assemblies are to be abolished. Good riddance, we say. We want a real Parliament for Wessex, not a talking shop for some arbitrary administrative zone that is Whitehall’s creature. But a Parliament is not what’s on offer. Indeed, there is no offer. Just more centralist diktat.
For the assemblies’ powers are to be transferred to quangos, the Regional Development Agencies, appointed by Whitehall and answerable to no-one else. As a sop to local democracy, it was proposed that draft regional plans should be signed off by a forum of local authority leaders in the region. But the detail reveals that – in the event of disagreement – the draft will be submitted to ministers with a note merely setting out points of dispute. The Local Government Association has correctly observed that this removes any incentive for the RDAs to take public opinion into account.
The South West RDA gleefully claimed that the new structure could ‘remove the barriers to growth’. In plain English, that’s you and me. The public. The folk who actually live here and see our environment being trashed daily. The folk who, if we were to take back the power to run our own lives, would see these quangocrats spend the rest of their working days making amends. Under the closest supervision.
Because they certainly aren’t fit to be doing any job that gives them the opportunity to ill-treat the environment. Anyone – whatever their role – who uses the phrase ‘economic growth’ positively is a proven menace. Their sanity should be treated as suspect and if they’re politicians they need to be unseated as soon as possible. Those who talk about ‘the economic opportunities of climate change’ are simply beyond hope.
The ‘g’ word – growth – assumes that what humans have done to their planet for millennia is what they can and should go on doing. We’ve lived with the consequences so far, so what’s the problem?
The ground may be perfectly smooth until you come to the cliff’s edge but the edge is there and it isn’t going anywhere. The planet is finite.
Assume that Planet Earth’s carrying capacity is depicted as a ceiling, a straight line. Racing towards that ceiling is the graph of economic growth. We need to stop short of the ceiling if we are to leave any room for wildlife, say 10%. Because even the most selfishly materialist must pause to ask what life-saving medicines are disappearing as the rainforest is cleared?
The bad news is that we breached that 10% some time around 1970. The really bad news is that we breached the ceiling itself around 1975 and are continuing to escalate beyond it. Saving Planet Earth is not about slowing down the rate of economic growth. It is not about stopping economic growth. It is about getting off the escalator altogether. Because otherwise we shall reach a point, perhaps around mid-century, when rocketing population meets collapsing oil reserves. And then it really is every man for himself. Already, there are ominous signs of a global food crisis.
The Scots are starting to get it right, with calls for a greater emphasis on wellbeing in place of self-destructive growth. No wonder their deputy First Minister called last week for a government that will speak up for Scotland – not shut up for London. The same goes for Wessex, whose lack of a voice is legendary.
You might think that some in government would be concerned. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs undoubtedly is, and is spearheading a move for realism within Whitehall. For now though, the Treasury rules. An attempt to introduce a European soil protection directive to safeguard our future food supply was stalled by the UK and three other member states at December’s Environment Council. Brown’s aim is simply to free up more and more land for development, dressed up in greenwash about “sustainability”. He’ll have made sure it won’t be his family who starve.
In the years ahead we may be looking at a kind of ancien regime collapse in Britain, whereby the institutions of government simply cease to function. The control freakery will accelerate as those with their hands on the levers of power become more and more desperate in their authoritarianism. Who trusts the State today? Why should anyone have confidence in those now actively working to destroy our quality of life?
To keep us on the growth treadmill while they and their economic dogmas are losing touch with environmental reality will not be easy. We know that critics will be dismissed as ‘prejudiced’, while Labour’s own prejudices are protected from exposure. We know that Labour will increasingly resort to legalised violence to get its own way, fully supported by the Conservative ‘opposition’. Its gag laws and its ever-increasing centralisation of power indicate the direction of travel all too well. We know that the financial house of cards, the ‘engine of growth’, the City of London, is in fact the engine of our destruction – and that it's becoming increasingly difficult to hide the fact.
The London papers are full of what to them are gloomy stories. Estimates vary, but the credit crunch could cost some 20,000 to 40,000 City jobs. Bring it on. Because is it really such a bad thing? Won’t the world be a better place without them? Won’t Wessex breathe a sigh of relief as fewer of our farms and homes are snapped up as hobbies by those with too many millions to burn? And isn’t the lesson that the time is now ripe for Wessex folk to be running our own resources for our own benefit?
Or will we give the slick spinners of corporate candyfloss yet another deadly chance?