How to lose a job and find real work

Share
Related Topics
Yes, I know April Fool's Day is gone but I promise I am not having you on. One of the longest-serving ministers will leave office on 2 May and head off, not to join the fat cat chorus, but to do good works in Africa.

Baroness Chalker, Minister for Overseas Development - one of only two ministers to have been in office throughout the 18 years of Conservative rule - has announced she will step down, whoever wins. She has no plans to follow so many former colleagues to the chairmanship of a corporation or the board of a newly privatised industry. She has pledged instead to tackle Third World poverty, concentrating on work on the ground, particularly in Africa.

She told me last week that she has not yet worked out the details. I have no doubt that she will pick up some good consultancies, at least, and make a deservedly decent living. But hers is still a radical departure. Just imagine Douglas Hogg resigning to devote his life to animal welfare, Peter Lilley announcing that his future lay with working with the homeless, or Douglas Hurd deciding to serve war victims in Bosnia. See what I mean?

I went along to hear Lynda Chalker's swan-song (and a swan she has been, in a government containing a few vultures, the odd aIbatross, and an awful lot of geese) in a speech to the Royal Geographical Society. Full of memories of her eight years as aid minister (I will never forget the former Roedean head girl bopping in blistering heat with Rio street children), I heard her reminisce about grieving with drought-stricken farmers in Africa, rejoicing at providing clean water in Gaza and hugging her first gorilla in Zaire.

She has graced one of the best, if most denigrated, jobs in government: one where you really can make a visible difference to peoples' lives. Despite repeated, enervating cuts in the aid budget - against which she has fought - she has done her best to try to see that what remains has been well spent.

Her speech looked ahead to an international summit in June which will assess progress (and the lack of it) since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It will do much to decide whether the world will, at long last, begin seriously to tackle the gathering environmental crisis. John Major has (optimistically) said he will go. Tony Blair has yet to follow suit.

Nevertheless the greening of Blairism goes on, providing one of the Labour manifesto's few surprises. The environment forms one of its 10 key commitments and pervades it with a kind of feel-green factor.

Specific pledges include tougher regulation of the water industry, an energy-saving push, more action against global warming and a halt to the wholesale privatisation of woodlands exposed by this paper last summer. It supports green taxation, promises a shake-up of the roads programme and effectively rules out heavier lorries and new nuclear power stations.

It is a very long way from last year's "Road to the Manifesto" which scarcely mentioned the environment and much credit is due to the shadow environmental protection minister, Michael Meacher. Even Charles Secrett, the head of Friends of the Earth who two months ago announced that he preferred the Tories, has changed his mind. As he points out, the manifesto far out-distances the Government's promises, though it was outshone by the Liberal Democrats' commitments on Friday. All three major parties have now produced their greenest ever manifestos.

Conservative aid ministers have also got progressively greener, and better, as Lynda Chalker's record demonstrates. Mind you, they could hardly have got worse than the first, Neil Marten, whom Mrs Thatcher put in to slash what she called "hand-outs".

Once, as images of starving children crossed the screen during an African famine, Marten turned to an official and asked: "Tell me, how does the BBC fake those pictures? How do they fake them?" On another occasion, while visiting some tropical shore, he went for a swim, only for an aide to begin fussing that they were behind schedule. A local official concurred, adding that it might be a good idea for Marten to come in as a shark had been seen recently. The aide brightened. "Come to think of it," he decided, "I think we can allow the minister a little more time."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'