The Sketch: So many initiatives, but National Walking Strategy is going round in circles

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The Independent Online

Plantagenet Palliser, famously the dullest parliamentarian of his or any other novel, championed the useless cause of the day: the decimalisation of sterling.

Today's harmless equivalent is Andrew Bennett and his cause, something he has been pushing for years now, is the National Walking Strategy. If there is one thing we know it is that this country has no need of a national walking strategy. It is why the Government has promised to give us one. And it is also the reason why it is very busily not doing it.

Mr Bennett got into Westminster Hall the other day to give his passion a little prick along.

What a lot of activity surrounds this inert idea. It turns out that there was a National Walking Strategy document but it has been demoted to a consultation document called "On the Move: By Foot". The sixth walking conference is happening today: "Talking Walking". National and/or regional walking forums are being considered. Seven hundred people attended almost a dozen conferences in the latter half of last year. A partnership website is being produced for walking including news on "best practice" (what do they have to tell us? When stepping out be sure to swing the opposite arm forwards or you will create an unbalanced impression?).

So many initiatives, yet it all seems to be going in circles. When will the national strategy become a reality? "Imminently,'' said Tony McNulty, a minister in the Deputy Prime Minister's Office. Or very shortly. Or to be brutally precise: "I cannot give my Hon Friend specific dates.''

Mr Bennett warned us: "We need to be quite clear that if people walk less and less, they will be born with wheels rather than feet. It is a tragic situation."

The same grasp of human realities was displayed yesterday in Trade and Industry questions. Patricia Hewitt made clear how unbearably slow the process of Common Agricultural Policy reform is. This round of talks is followed by that conference which is recapped at the other summit. Everyone says that they are committed to helping Third World countries by abolishing tariff barriers. Millions die, because it does not happen, even though there is a terrific amount of activity surrounding the project. It is the international equivalent of the National Walking Strategy.

And what will our grandchildren make of it? They will look at the footage of skeletal children being eaten alive by flies and ask us what the moral distinction was between the Holocaust and the famines? And we will say: "You sound just like an Italian of the time called Berlusconi. He created a terrific row by comparing some EU official to a Nazi guard. From what you say, my child, it seems he was making a pretty fair point." Leaving aside these reflections on genocide, let us welcome Michael Fabricant to the dispatch box. The poor Tory is characterised as a figure of fun. And yet you find you can understand everything he says (which is not always the norm) and he has large, floating eyes, rather like fried eggs, which are frankly a little frightening. When passion inspires him, they throb a little. It is an impressive sight. He deserves to do well. But alas, because of his reputation, he will not be able to.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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