One year on: could do better

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The Independent Online
JUST over a year ago I was given a really tricky task - setting out a Green agenda for the new government to appear in the Review section on the Sunday after the election.

What's hard about that? The problem was that, because of early deadlines, it had to be written before the polls opened and, just to increase my confidence, I was given the job on the day an opinion poll dramatically narrowed the gap between the parties.

So I drew up a 10-point "wish list" without much faith that it would be implemented by either party. But looking down it on the anniversary of the election last week I was surprised to see how much the Government had begun to put into practice.

It has insisted on: "mandatory leakage targets" for the water industry. John Prescott has made it clear that: "revitalising towns and cities", and building fewer houses in the countryside, is one of his key priorities. He and his ministers have begun to "wrest transport policy away from an obsession with cars and roads". Most remarkably of all, the Government "transformed the international negotiations" on global warming, bringing them to a reasonable conclusion at Kyoto last December.

Of course other issues are still pending - like giving greater protection to wildlife sites, and deciding whether to allow Sellafield to increase radioactive emissions and to build a plant to make nuclear fuel from plutonium, the stuff of atomic bombs. And the biggest disappointment among the 10 points has been Gordon Brown's failure to introduce Green taxes in this year's Budget, despite promises to do so.

There is a long way to go, and most of what has been achieved is down to just two ministers, John Prescott and his junior, Michael Meacher. New Labour has not delivered its promise to "put the environment at the heart of government". It has fulfilled another pledge, to be the Greenest government yet - but that was not particularly hard.

o THE environment department seems to have a Midas touch, guiding the ministers that run it. Who would have thought, for example, before he got there, that John Gummer would have been one of the few ministers to enhance his standing in the Major years. It even made his predecessor, Michael Howard, look good for a while - though his ass's ears magically reappeared when he moved on to the Home Office.

Certainly Mssrs Prescott and Meacher, both underestimated before they got there, have been among the successes of the first year, forming an effective, "hard man, soft man" double act. A year ago it was thought that Mr Meacher would not survive long: if he was sacked now there would be an outcry.

o FRIENDS of the Earth, rather a po-faced organisation lately, seems to have acquired a sense of humour - in the shape of Ian Willmore, an irreverent aid to Mr Meacher who has conspicuously not asked to enter the corridors of power.

Instead of a long, tedious report on the Government's first year, he has produced a school report on 13 key ministers. Dome secretary Peter Mandelson ("I'm sorry to say he has not had a good year") came bottom with two out of 10: Mr Meacher ("Keen but owlish") was top with seven.

The overall assessment, unsurprisingly, is rather more bearish than mine - but the joy is in the headmasterly character observations. Tony Blair "has a trick of earning applause without doing anything". The agriculture minister, Jack Cunningham, "is as smooth as an olive oil salesman, but not always as well motivated". And, as for transport secretary Gavin Strang, "at times it is easy to forget he is in class at all".

Finally comes the comment that Clare Short "seems prone to squabble with boys, particularly sharp-tongued little Robin, who sits next to her and sometimes makes rude faces".