Blair briefing bans green issues chief

Labour leadership punishes Friends of the Earth for attack on policy
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The head of Friends of the Earth has been banned from attending a meeting between Tony Blair and Britain's top environmentalists on Wednesday.

Charles Secrett's offence was to write an article in a radical magazine saying the Government and the Liberal Democrats had a better environmental reputation than the Opposition.

He wrote: "Any party hierarchy that lacks the insight and courage to take the lead on these mainstream issues does not deserve to win an election."

After his harsh words appeared in Red Pepper, the satirical political magazine, the Labour leader's office made it clear Mr Secrett would not be welcome at the next meeting between Mr Blair and the senior greens. The previous gathering was just before Christmas.

"It's a shame that they're shooting the messenger but we'll all get over it," said Mr Secrett, executive director of FoE. "The most important thing is that he really listens to the others who'll be there."

Leaders of six environmental and conservation groups including Greenpeace, the Wildlife Trusts, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the World Wide Fund for Nature, are meeting the Labour leader to try to raise the profile of green issues in the party's manifesto. The green group is also seeking meetings with the Prime Minister and the Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

Labour baffles and frustrates the greens. For years the party has made little play on key environmental issues such as air pollution and loss of countryside and wildlife, although that has changed with the appointment of Michael Meacher as environment protection spokesman.

However, they worry that the two most important Labour politicians, Tony Blair and the shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown, listen politely and promise little. Mr Brown's cautious statement that he favours switching taxes from employment and investment on to pollution and depletion of natural resources gives them a glimmer of hope.

The environmentalists fondly remember "In Trust For Tomorrow", Labour's radical green policy document of 1994 when Chris Smith was environment spokesman. Since then little has been heard about some of its proposals such as creating new national parks and making drivers of gas-guzzling cars pay more for their tax discs. Labour did insert a strongly pro- environment statement into the party's aims and principles when Clause 4 was rewritten, and has also pledged to create temporary jobs and training for tens of thousands of unemployed youngsters in insulating homes and in nature conservation.

When they meet Mr Blair on Wednesday, the green groups' message will boil down to this: "Our agenda is not about airy-fairy concerns of the middle class. It offers ways of raising revenue, creating jobs, reducing costly illness and helping the poor." One campaigner said: "If Mr Blair really wants to change Britain for the better without increasing the tax burden he could start by embracing the green agenda."