Moggy threat to American way of life

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Today we name the guilty man. One of Britain's best-loved commentators is, we are told, out to stir up civil war between American environmentalists and trigger-happy citizens' militias, to "make the United States ungovernable". Step forward that "member of the highest level of British Intelligence" - William Rees-Mogg.

This mastermind, according to the fringe technology magazine 21st Century, is inciting local militias to violence against Greens and encouraging radical environmentalists "to shut down the nation's productive capacity". This follows an old "nation-destroying formula: both sides of a conflict are set up and controlled in order to ensure British hegemony over the nation as a whole". And it is all down to Rees-Mogg, and a "small group of oligarchs, centred on the British crown".

Now I'll believe a lot about the Royal Family these days but Rees-Mogg, that's too much. Why, I've even sat next to him at dinner. The old boy may be no stranger to conspiracy theories, particularly about the White House, but he has also long enriched life with hopelessly off-the-mark predictions. Bill Clinton's sure electoral defeat and Colin Powell's victory, for example. Or hailing Margaret Thatcher's triumph in the leadership struggle the very day before she fell.

A search for signs of duplicity in the handful of columns he has written on green issues produced this sparse evidence. In 1993 he was early to condemn organophosphate pesticides, while two years later he backed Shell's attempt to dump the Brent Spar oil platform at sea. The trouble is - unlike 21st Century - he was right, both times.

Those hunting a really cunning green mole in the British establishment need look no further than Rees-Mogg's Oxford contemporary Sir Crispin Tickell. Best known as our UN ambassador in the run-up to the Gulf war, when he could be heard on television saying cool and reassuringly British things, he has also been eminence vert to two Prime Ministers.

A paper he sent Mrs Thatcher sparked her noisy, if short-lived, green conversion. And this week he will present John Major with his third report as convenor of the Prime Minister's special panel of environmental advisers.

Mr Major set up the panel - which also includes Lord Alexander of Weedon, head of NatWest, and Sir John Houghton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution - in the wake of the 1992 Earth Summit. He was, no doubt, following Harold Macmillan's tried-and-tested advice when that PM avoided tackling London's smogs in the Fifties: "I suggest we form a committee. We cannot do very much, but we can seem to be very busy and that's half the battle nowadays." Douglas Hogg was perhaps pursuing the same strategy over food safety last week.

But the panel has established a useful tradition. It publishes short reports which are easy on the brain as well as on trees. And it has consistently shown remarkable prescience. Its first effort flagged rows over fisheries as a coming issue. Its second did the same for genetically modified foods. This one tilts at environmentally-damaging government subsidies, such as for company cars and destructive farming, which it estimates at pounds 20m a year.

Nobody seems to know whether the panel reports to Mr Major personally or to the Prime Minister per se, and thus what would happen after a Labour election victory. But Sir Crispin says: "We will go on until we are told to stop."

He may be OK. Tony Blair, after months of vacillation, is finally showing interest in green issues. The word is that one of his young sons insists he does. And the green pressure groups are limbering up for the polls, with unpredictable results.

Charles Secrett, executive director of the traditionally radical Friends of the Earth, has announced that he marginally prefers the Tories because they, unlike Labour, "have a track record". (Not surprising, in fairness, after more than 17 years in power.) But Barbara Young, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - a body so conservative that its films used to show every aspect of avian life except mating - was the only speaker I heard cite "socialism" at last weekend's green Labour Party rally.

Back in the whackier reaches of God's Own Country the people of Montana are embarrassed. They share their state not only with one of the most notorious local militias but also the suspected Unabomber, whose green views Republicans are joyfully comparing with Al Gore's. But they have found some consolation in a bumper sticker: "At least our cows aren't mad!"