Nails in Labour's coffin

Ruth Kelly has revealed another backroom farce surrounding the introduction of Home Information Pack

As the government tries again to drag us back into the bad old days of nuclear power, this isn’t the only nail in the coffin of Labour’s environmental credentials.

There have been several recently, with almost every department lining up to demonstrate its incompetence at organising and running effective green policies. The ongoing debacle of the DTI’s chronically under-funded, currently suspended, and what seems like deliberately badly planned, Low Carbon Buildings Programme (which is supposed to help householders generate their own green electricity) is now a classic example of this tendency.

On Tuesday, Communities and Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly revealed another backroom farce surrounding the introduction of Home Information Packs. These have been delayed now from June until August – and will only then apply to houses with four or more bedrooms.

The scheme has been managed in the worst way possible. Revealing the waste of a golden opportunity to create a new, skilled, green workforce, Kelly confessed that less than a quarter of the necessary inspectors had been trained to complete energy surveys for the packs. Those that have qualified were gearing up to start work in a few days time but now face unemployment until August, and even then an uncertain workload as no new timetable has been set for expanding the scope of HIPs.

There is no excuse for this kind of mismanagement. The HIP isn’t something the government thought up last year and decided to rush through. The energy component of the packs is an essential part of compliance with the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and they have had plenty of notice of this. With no firm plans for compliance now in existence, it looks like this will be another environmental Directive to add to the list of those the UK has failed to implement properly, including those on waste and air quality, among others.

When Labour came into power ten years ago, they promised to ‘make every department a green department’. Instead we have seen green policies jettisoned, left on the shelf or just plain undermined by almost every minister who gets the chance. Part of the reason that so-called Environment Secretary David Miliband is so ineffective must be that he and his ministry have little influence on – or even knowledge of – the chaos being wreaked by other departments in areas that should be within his remit.

As we watch our carbon emissions rising every year, the DTI demolishing our hopes for a green energy future, and the CLG department ditching policies to reduce the footprint of our homes, Defra seems largely confined to funding ‘communications initiatives’ around climate change and encouraging councils to spy on our wheelie bins. I suspect that only when we get an Environment department with real teeth – or better still, real Greens in government – will we see any improvement.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.