Meacher back on Earth Summit team as Campbell is overruled

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, was restored yesterday to the British delegation for next month's Earth Summit in South Africa after a U-turn by Downing Street over the trip.

In a rare ministerial victory over Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications and strategy, Mr Meacher won a reprieve to attend the UN conference in Johannesburg.

Mr Campbell had originally suggested that the Environment minister be dropped from the delegation amid concerns about media claims of ministerial "junketing" at the expense of the world's poor. But careful leaking of the move resulted in a backlash from green organisations and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, was allowed to choose which ministers could attend.

It was even claimed that Mr Campbell had asked Mr Prescott not to attend the summit but was overruled when the Deputy Prime Minister complained to Tony Blair. Instead of reducing press criticism, Mr Campbell's efforts backfired by raising fresh fears about his seniority over elected ministers.

Mr Meacher said he was "very pleased" to be included on the list but acknowledged he had been "concerned" about reports that he had been left out.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mr Meacher was among five ministers who would be travelling to the summit along with 65 officials, administration and security staff. The other ministers attending the summit are Mr Blair, Mr Prescott, Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development (DfID), and Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The only ministerial casualty was Baroness Amos, a Foreign Office minister, who had also been expected to join the delegation.

Announcing the final delegation line-up, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "We obviously want to have the best team to go there."

The 70-strong British delegation is about a third of the size of the delegations being sent by comparable countries and considerably smaller than the 100-strong contingent said to have been originally planned. It will include some 45 policy and press officials from five Whitehall departments: Defra, DfID, the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Department for Trade and Industry. There will also be 15 administrative support staff and five security staff.

Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's World at One that he was never officially told that he was not on the ministerial list. But when he was asked about his reaction to reports that he had been excluded, he hinted that he had complained to Downing Street. "Obviously I was concerned about that and obviously there have been discussions about that but I am not going to go into it in detail," Mr Meacher said.