We need to see evidence of Mr Blair's conversion to the Green cause

Share

Well, at least he said it. The real importance of Tony Blair's wide-ranging and much-trailed speech on the environment yesterday lay in the fact that he made it at all. For a man who famously promised to put environment at the heart of government, Mr Blair has spent three and a half years in office seeming to ignore it conspicuously; he has talked of education, education, education and of crime and the causes of crime.

Well, at least he said it. The real importance of Tony Blair's wide-ranging and much-trailed speech on the environment yesterday lay in the fact that he made it at all. For a man who famously promised to put environment at the heart of government, Mr Blair has spent three and a half years in office seeming to ignore it conspicuously; he has talked of education, education, education and of crime and the causes of crime.

But on matters Green there has been hardly a sparrow's cheep out of the New Labour Prime Minister. No one, least of all this newspaper, would cavil at his concern for education, public safety and health, but sins of omission can be dire; schools, burglary and hospitals may be immediate worries, but they are ultimately dwarfed by the consequences of global climate change, by the destabilisation of the life-support systems of the one, small, beautiful planet we have to live on.

Mr Blair made some amends yesterday when he belatedly acknowledged the seriousness of threats to the environment. He defended his Government's Green record and called for a new partnership between government, environmental campaigners, and business. He gave some money away. He made the right noises. But it is a long way from here to seeing him as Green Tony.

It is instructive to compare yesterday's speech with Margaret Thatcher's speech to the Royal Society in September 1988, in which she proclaimed her conversion to the environmental agenda. The latter was a true epiphany, the blinding discovery of a conviction politician, which overnight turned the environment from being a minority to a mainstream political concern in Britain. Mr Blair's discourse, by contrast, while skilfully put together, had the feel of the researcher and the special adviser all over it. Isn't it time you made a speech on the environment, Prime Minister? It was dead at heart.

The problem is partly with Labour, which has always viewed environmental matters with suspicion, as if they were a Tory plot, but mainly with the man himself. Mr Blair is urban man incarnate, Homo Islingtonensis. He shows no sign of ever having been moved by a wild-flower meadow, a peregrine falcon or a tortoiseshell butterfly; he seems to have no visceral feel whatsoever for the natural world. New Labour's environmental record is actually quite good, but this owes nothing to Mr Blair; it has been achieved by following strategies put in place by the last Tory government, and also, let it be said, by the energy and commitment of the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, who has proved an outstanding success, despite Mr Blair's insistence at keeping him out of the Cabinet.

The Prime Minister himself has shown, on those rare occasions when he has intervened in environmental matters, that he is not on the side of the Greens. He is a strong defender of nuclear reprocessing, anathema to environmentalists, and despite his protestation of neutrality yesterday, he has been a firm backer of GM technology. We must wait for more evidence of Mr Blair's Green concern, for actions, before we accept he is transformed on the evidence of a single speech. But thanks for making it, Tony. And thanks for mentioning the house sparrow, a particular concern of ours. Even if it was the special adviser who included it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband said the Tories are a danger to family finances  

Election 2015: Me, my 18-year-old son, and why I’m voting Labour

Matthew Norman
 

Birth can be a dangerous business – even in the UK

Jane Merrick
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before