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The Very Orange (and currently, it seems, Amusingly Pink) Julian H was first off the blocks this morning with That Letter from the Greens, to the which alarming turn of events – wot, a Lib Dem can’t even trust their fellow eco-weirdies not to dump on their head any more? - I can now add my own snippet.

The fact that Siân Berry is now in alliance with a Labour party that has just used green tax revenue to concrete over its deficit problems and wants the whole of the South East to be made into a sustainable network of jumbo jet runways is bad enough. In fact it makes a change because the London mayoral contest has so far proved disappointing for seekers of dramatic political narrative. Notwithstanding the bendy bus bollocks, and allowing for the vagaries of different agencies, the poll figures show a fair degree of cohesion if you overlook the initial jump in Brian Paddick’s ratings. It’s newspaper columnists’ adam’s apples (invariably) that have been bobbing up and down.

The only relief has come from Martin Kettle, who is under the weather with Batshit Crazy Talk Syndrome at the moment, as evidenced by his bizarre contention that in order to be “taken seriously” in the London mayoral race, what the Liberal Democrats really need to do is, er, replace their candidate a month before polling day. His reasoning here is that Vince Cable is an indispensible asset to the party and needs to be put into a position of prominence. What, you mean like, make him deputy leader and shadow chancellor? Hey, interesting thought, Martin! We’ll have lunch.

One trend only is discernible - over the last two polls alone, Ken’s support has dipped slightly and Boris has picked up the slack. No wonder Labour is worried. So worried that we learn from the People’s Republican Intelligence Service that they have been on the phone to the Cleggster twice in recent weeks, asking if Our Brian could possibly see his way maybe to recommending that his supporters give Ken second preference pretty please?

Now, I’ve seen it suggested in public forums that Brian Paddick has some sort of obligation to side with Ken on the grounds that we must keep Boris out at all costs, and I don’t know whether any peddlars of this horrid noisome fallacy are reading, but if you are I have implanted an intelligent virus into my blog which will strike you down with a slightly unpleasant cold. Why the hell should Brian back Ken? I mean, apart from the fact that Labour policy in London on, er, housing, crime and the environment is largely repellant to Lib Dem principles? Brian is backing Brian, for goodness’ sake.

“No,” said the Cleggster, and put the phone down. The rest is public record - Labour went for the second best option and hooked up with the pathetically eager Greens instead, for whom Labour’s dismal record on pretty much everything they hold dear was apparently just so much organic sunflower seed.

But it gets worse because Ken is having his revenge on the Lib Dems for spurning his generous offer to allow us to support his continuing bid for amphibious world domination. The Greens have suddenly unaccountably learned how to be nasty and proactive, and today are delivering their open letter to Nick Clegg suggesting that Lib Dems should be voting for Berry. You can tell they’re being nasty because their main charge appears to be that Brian Paddick, a serving police officer of thirty years’ standing, is a “celebrity candidate”, as opposed presumably to Berry who has long been slogging away in the public interest by dint of appearing on Richard & Judy.

Much of their reasoning, such as it is, is easily dealt with:

Mr Paddick has pledged to scrap the Low Emissions Zone… He would cancel the higher-rate Congestion Charge for gas-guzzling Band G vehicles

The current congestion charge policy is holding the number of cars in London steady, not decreasing it. And small wonder, because £25 is fairly traded Brazil nuts to a Chelsea Tractor driver, and some categories of vehicle currently escape the charge altogether. Why should exceptions or allowances be made for ANY kind of vehicle? Is this a Congestion Charge or not? The aim should be to get cars OUT of Central London, not give away little treats to those who drive slightly less polluting cars. And the whole place should be a Low Emissions Zone, for god’s sake! The logical thing to do if you’re serious about getting cars out of London is to replace the current staggered and time-limited system with a uniform 24/7 charge, whether you’ve got a Chelsea tractor or a biscuit tin on wheels. 

The Greens naturally make no mention of the Lib Dem suggestion of a £10 charge on the whole of Greater London for people coming in from outside, which would have a fundamental effect on commuting patterns. And in response to the insinuation that Paddick is chasing Conservative votes, I can personally assure you, Greeny-Browny people, that this one ain’t playing well in the affluent Tory suburbs at all. Transport habits in London need to be changed, not validated with the odd bit of belt-tightening. Pissing about with this or that exception just isn’t getting us anywhere and that’s clear in the figures.

And he plans to privatise the Tube network to place management entirely in the hands of a single firm.

Yeah, because PPP has really worked out. Three-quarters of the Tube network is currently in administration or hadn’t you noticed? The London taxpayer is about to pick up the bill for the failings and inefficiencies of a private company – I’d say that’s pretty much a done deal on privatisation, wouldn’t you? Public-private partnership was a Labour decision made in 1999, Labour being – oh! – the party you’ve just got into bed with. The Lib Dem plan is simply to apply the same concessionary model that works much more successfully on the DLR to the tube network. Whether newspaper headline-writers like it or not, the issue is no longer private v. public, it’s shit private v. decent private. So let’s go with the model that has been proved to work, non? It’s sheer insanity to have one company managing the trains on a given line, another company doing the track maintenance, a third company staffing the stations, a fourth doing the signals and a fifth employed to generally sweep up and occasionally scrape depressed Green voters off the tracks.

So much for the arguments. It’s the soul-revolting back story I object to. Not only have the Greens sold out their principles to a pretty lowly sort of bidder, they’re now doing his “public relations” work in an attempt to split the anti-Labour vote, and target Number One is the man who refused to countenance any such deal.

I daresay if such a letter had been sent prior to the Green-Labour hook-up things would look different. They’d still have been wrong, and oddly personal in their choice of terms. But honour would have been intact. This just stinks. Going Brown really doesn’t suit you people.

We are very good citizens in my flat. We nobly take it upon ourselves to drink as much beer as possible in the interests of being able to recycle our collective bodyweight once a week in tinnies. Undeterred are we by our official demographic classification as young female problem binge drinkers. We recycle about half our rubbish, which is pretty good going given that we don’t actually have a recycling collection and have to tout it along to North Finchley under our own steam, or, in fact, petrol.

Under the government’s “pay as you throw” scheme, originally proposed last May as part of the “Waste Strategy for England 2007″, which would tax people on the amount of rubbish they failed to recycle, I reckon we’d come out smelling of Dettol. But it seems there won’t be a need for  extra push in rinsing out the Dolmio jars because, in the words of the All Party Parliamentary Committee for Communities, Local Government and That Sort of Thing, the government has now “mounted a whole-hearted retreat from even the limited policy set out last May”. If you can’t quite bear to read the whole 34-page report (you funny old thing), the Torygraph summarises:

Members of the Commons local government committee described plans for just five pilot schemes, beginning in 2009, as a “messy compromise” and accused the Government of a “loss of courage” in the face of criticism.

Cool beans, I say. The third biggest thing wrong with the idea was the embedding of microchips into wheelie bins, which as a vignette on the loss of privacy is just comically grotesque. The second biggest thing wrong was the fact that no-one controls what rubbish comes into their house. Until you tax supermarkets on surrounding their products with all this guff in the first place, you have no right whatever to tax individuals on what they then do to get rid of it. Some (yes, you!) will mention market correction at this point. To this, I say pfah! I also say that waiting for the market to correct and supermarkets to catch on would be unacceptably messy here, because by then certain levels of revenue would have come to be expected of the scheme, and the shortfalls as packaging reduced would be made up god knows how – but we can safely assume, not through corporation tax.

The biggest and most important thing wrong with the idea is that it wouldn’t work, and I’ll tell you why. We don’t have a wheelie bin, nor do any of the other five flats in this building, nor the further eighteen flats in this block, nor the thirty odd further up the road. Because we live over the shops, you see, and don’t have a driveway or a garden path or a kerb amongst the lot of us. At certain predefined times of the day we are permitted to take our rubbish out onto the Queen’s Highway and leave it by the smart little black and gold Haringey street bin (which does to be honest make one feel slightly like a scroat. It’s like when I’m buying gas in the newsagents and all the middle class mummies around me who thought I was One of Them freeze in shock and edge little Daisy and Isabella away from me).

But we’re talking about a small row of buildings - what about big estates? Most of them have communal bins – who is to say which households are recycling and thus deserve the “rewards” and which are naughty stinky poo-poo households who should get taxed? Are they just going to let everyone with any of sort of communal bin arrangement off? Somehow, I really doubt it. After all, it never works in reverse – my flatmate’s car got towed recently and she was warned she’d have to keep it on “private property” until she could get it re-registered and the tax renewed. Have you ever tried to explain to someone in Swansea what it’s like to live in a second-floor flat in London? It took us the entire morning and eighteen phone calls to find someone we knew who had some private sodding property.

Given that these sorts of problems will exist everywhere where communal front doors exist, I can’t be all that sorry that this scheme has been dramatically reduced. And given that I am, by most standards, a greenie control freak who would be quite happy to BAN cars from central London (apparently that’s “not liberal”, they tell me), that is saying something.

This is simply staggering. Apparently Caroline “veins of” Flint is due to make an announcement which was probably intended, among other aims, to ratchet her Overall Fluffiness Rating back up to “barbed-wire spitting psychopathic ice witch”.

She will soon be announcing a shortlist of UK locations, some of which will be newly developed as “eco-towns”. The idea of these developments – involving the building of tens of thousands of carbon-neutral homes and the creation from scratch of whole new communities and infrastructures – apparently wasn’t news (it was news to the People’s Republic of Mortimer, but that’s because we have never bothered ourselves much about planning laws; everything is perfect here already, you see.) The “news” bit is the publication of (a) the full shortlist, including greenfield and protected sites and (b) if the Observer’s coverage is to be believed, some of the actual developers’ plans which have already been submitted to the government without local consultation.

Assuming, as I must, that this is actually legal, I really do find it hard to credit how anyone could have been so stupid as to believe this approach would work. The country’s first nationwide urban greening scheme - which is to include 40% social housing among its projected build - is now in the absurd position of facing down protest and petition from the likes of local retired headteachers, wildlife funds and other touchy-feely worthies from environmentally-concerned demographics (all right, and the inevitable CPRE) – exactly the sort of people who are supposed to be in favour of This Sort of Thing. The idea of an eco-town is visionary, exciting, a glimpse of a hoped-for future. Who in the name of arse was responsible for steering a course which would render it a looming statist monster-truck crushing local circumstances and opinion in its path?

This breaks my heart. It really does. It could have been a contender. Individual communities are capable of putting themselves to enormous trouble to pursue environmental goals with no state assistance. Yes, nimbyism is always a factor to contend with, but entrusting the grand aims of the project to public care would have worked to disable the kind of sulky powerlessness that is so often the hallmark of the obstreperous nimby. We might even have seen, eventually, the development of regional variation in eco-town planning that would have laid the foundations of healthy experimentation and competition in the future. As it stands, one of the excitement high spots of the story is a nasty whiff of conflict of interest involving a developer and the ubiquitous Blair (is he being cloned somewhere? because he is now associated with many more pies than a normal man has fingers). When statism fails even to promote a cause like this effectively, you wonder how anyone can be so purblind as to not see that it fails altogether.

Lush, the natural cosmetics company, scourge of unnecessary packaging, unrepentant drawers of little smiley stick figures and manufacturers extraordinaire of Jasminey Things with Glitter in them need no advertisement, but I’m going to give them one anyway for once again bringing joy to my liberal and girlish heart.

Not only have they started using popcorn* in their mail order packaging instead of polystyrene. They are now offering a free face mask to customers who bring back five of their trademark little black plastic pots to a Lush shop for recycling. Lest this sound like a tall order to the uninitiated, I should explain that I have four nearly empty such pots in my bathroom right this minute, and so does every other genuine Lush aficionado. Aww, they really do care! I call upon the party to embrace this fine initiative and really differentiate itself from the dull, sluggish, oily-with-dry-bits Con-Lab consensus.

* I have made the mistake for you and it tastes of soap.

A while back, there was a scary lady on the news. She was the representative of something ominously called the Optimum Population Trust. Her hair rose a good six inches above her head, and she was almost certainly from Surrey.

The Optimum Population Trust’s website is nicely done out in pink. The Trust appears to be a selfless consortium of the environmentally concerned and socially responsible. Concerned about the speed of global warming? it asks, About the effects of overpopulation on a plundered planet?

Well, I, er… About the UK’s failure to stabilise its own population? Ahhhh.

Just below these probing entreaties is a world population counter that ticks away like a tolerance timebomb as you wiggle your cursor around trying to decide what to click on first. They all sound so inviting! Let’s see.

Too many people in the UK… Too many people in Europe… Too many people ON EARTH…  The caps are mine. I quiver with terror as I click in. Is this in fact a direct policy tool? Will the over-curious be digitally exterminated for the good of the Race?

No, don’t be silly, Mortimer. It’s a perfectly legitimate organisation supported and led by many eminent people of all political stripes, making a good and terrifying point about the effect of a rising population on a planet whose natural resources are dwindling.

A shame therefore that it lays itself open to the charge of playing to extremist views, quoting the following as though it supported the core argument:

Those who already inhabit the UK recognise the dangers: in an Ipsos-Mori poll carried out in August 2006, 33% of respondents identified population growth as the most serious threat to the future wellbeing of Britain, second only to terrorism and ahead of climate change. Yet no political party has a policy aimed at stabilising and reducing today’s environmentally unsustainable population.

Firstly, the poll was incorrect to separate out population growth and climate change, but the results of its having done so are revealing. If all those respondents had really been as selflessly concerned with environmental impacts as the OPT chooses to believe, surely they would all have put climate change first. Moreover, many of those who inhabit the UK also “recognise” that those filthy Eastern Europeans have our benefits system in their sights, that gay people aren’t fit to adopt, and that they should be allowed to use their car as much as they want, and that includes driving their perfect children the thirty yards to school. That doesn’t mean that even a Tory government would be stupid enough to formulate policy to support them. If the Optimum Population Trust isn’t being disingenuous in this po-faced little paragraph, it is at the very least guilty of total cretinism.

However, it will come as a surprise to precisely no-one that my biggest problem with the OPT statement is that  no-one has bothered to seek out Lib Dem policy on the issue (yawn). Paras 7.4.3 to 7.3.5, birth-control fans. I mean, no doubt we could make more of this than we do, but we have enough trouble getting people to take on board our tax policy…

This morning Nick Clegg spoke on GMTV about the need to enthuse and inspire people to tackle climate change, rather than threatening them with global disaster and, worse still, bad character development if they don’t play.

By which I mean, I gather he did. I have been told so by people who know these things. Myself I was fast asleep and having one of those really prosaic waiting-at-the-bus-stop type dreams that make you wonder what the hell can be going on in your consciousness that your sub-conscious is so bloody boring…

But I digress. This is exactly why Charlotte gets more visitors than I do. Where was I?

Nick and enthusing people. I remain surprised, some, oh, thousand years into the leadership contest or whatever it is, that Chris has not said something similar. A little disappointed even. He’s a self-styled radicaliser and the environment is his baby. Despite all the chuff that gets talked about Nick being indisputably the better communicator, Chris understands the rules governing what people like to hear. (At least I gather he does, or he wouldn’t have e-mailshotted us with a twitchy intellectual rant about Reading being a Good Thing. We like that sort of talk in the People’s Republic).

So why isn’t he contributing to the debate on how to communicate climate change? His manifesto on the environment is entirely policy-focussed and the sort of thing his team could write in its sleep. Is he resting on his organic laurels?

Because there is a problem with communicating climate change that goes beyond marketing – in fact marketing is the problem. One of the many things I meant to blog about when I first saw it but didn’t, probably because I was distracted by a sparkly thing or a seldom screened episode of Time Team or something, was this piece on green fatigue in the Indy back in September.

The gist of it is that people are bored with being green, doing complicated things with shopping bags, buying rubbish lightbulbs that make everything look weird, heaping up mounds of cardboard by the front door, measuring cups of water into the kettle and so forth, when to all appearances the world is still going down the dual-flush toilet faster than you can grow your own organic vegetables (a lot faster, in fact).

Why this malaise? A number of views are gathered in, and they strike me as fairly typical of their respective stables. The marketeer’s take is that people don’t like changing their routines and will always go for the easy option – as if we were all particularly lazy ants, which I suppose as far as marketeers are concerned we are. 

The climatologist and co-author of a book on communicating climate change essentially says the same thing in less repellant terms – she produces the analogy of a diet that demanded stringent effort over a long period and only promises a bit of slow weight loss – why would anyone bother? Unlike the marketeer she has a solution: local collective action that doesn’t focus on a global apocalypse which is just too damn big for our evolutionarily tiny brains to compute.

The green campaigner is contrastingly unforgiving. We are not being demanding enough of ourselves. The problem is huge, but ordinary people can solve it. No sugar-coating. We need to stop pissing about with plastic bag re-use and imbue the fight against climate change with a heroic spirit. Winning the fight, he says, would be as great a victory as winning World War II.

Three points of view to get your teeth into. And then what? Why, the journalist patiently takes it all down, puts in nicely written linking sentences, and then finishes the article with, yes, a little inset box containing words like “brushing your teeth”, “plastic bags”, “thermostat” and the remainder.

When are we going to break out of this (re)cycle? We’ve talked ourselves into a position where the little things are eminently achievable, make diddly-squat difference and are about as exciting as watching yoghurt make itself, but even after a thousand words along these lines a perfectly intelligent journalist still can’t get off the squeaky wheel and admit that something more profound needs to happen.

You will gather that I think the ardent green campaigner has a point. His take is the only one that is truly radical, that steps outside the current model. I have blogged before about the absorption of environmentalism into full-blown marketeering. I was perfectly well aware that people made money out of selling roof-mounted wind turbines, providing green consultancy services and so forth, but the undertow of all these enterprises has always hitherto been radical thought. Someone had the entrepreneurial courage to see the way the wind was blowing (geddit?) and, one assumes, the personal conviction to weather (hehehe) a few bad years rather than make a success of something more conventional. But when promotions people start aping the format of broadsheet greenie A5 supplements and filling them with crap is when I start to worry.

At what point did the environmental market become just that? When did the greenie stop being a citizen of the world, and start being a consumer? Being a consumer means you are aspirationally limited to wanting what a bunch of twats in Shoreditch think you should want.

This is one area where the market cannot correct by itself. It’s not going to have the big idea for us; it’s only going to follow the big ideas we feed into it. At the moment, the big idea is that we should all reuse plastic bags and put tinfoil on our rooves, and that frankly isn’t turning me on. I don’t want my life to be like an endless Blue Peter presentation in which nothing ever gets made, I want to be challenged, I want to make BIG stuff, I want to abandon the squeezy bottle for the meccano kit!

But there is also a lot that is significantly wrong with the campaigner’s view, and that’s that masochism is not to everybody’s taste. Back in Brighton in September, I went to a fringe meeting whose speakers included the Indy’s environmental editor Mike McCarthy. I am lastingly astonished that he (presumably) okayed the piece I’ve linked to above only the next day, because at the meeting he spoke knowledgeably and engagingly about the need to accentuate the positive, talk up how wonderful life would be if we actually were carbon neutral. His and the other panellists’ concerns were so thoughtful and their conviction so genuine that I became slightly annoyed with a greenie who stood up to accuse them of not doing the responsible thing and sounding a front-page disaster-alarm every day until people woke up. That just wouldn’t work, they said gently, and the way they said it, I really did believe they weren’t just thinking of circulation figures. Aww, little me.

Nick Clegg is fully alive to this. He had a strong piece in the Guardian last week on how the environment has been undersold as an aspiration. George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network has been talking along these lines for some time – to hell with the impersonal, dogmatic “Save the Planet”, let’s save the people from an extended commercialisation nightmare that also happens to be melting the ice. It fits like a charm into a Lib Dem world view. We can use it like the Tories never can. It chimes with localism, with radicalism, with the very notion of liberalism conceived as doing as little harm as possible. Liberal footprint, carbon footprint.

And needless to say it tends to chime with the sort of people Lib Dems are as well. I like using a jute bag at the supermarket. I like re-using what I have. There’s a processual satisfaction in not being wasteful, and I’d be surprised if it weren’t communicable.

If little me knows about this stuff, there’s really no excuse for Chris.

A serious-looking A5 booklet fell out of the Grauniad last weekend. Ah, I thought, another timely retrospective of Frieda Kahlo which I shall keep carefully on the floor for some months and mean to read in odd moments, only admitting that no moment is quite odd enough when the booklet has developed a thin patina of sticky fur.

But no, this is The Green Guide, and I flick through to see if there is anything whatsoever I don’t know about lightbulbs, roof insulation, leaving appliances on standby and the remainder. By the seventeenth page of promotional material I have twigged that this is not the usual exquisitely overthought series of Grauniad mini-essays with inset-box vignettes and a postgraduate-level bibliography of further contacts.

This is a 64-page advertising barrage exhorting me to replace my boiler, fit a water meter to my toilet, stick solar panels to my roof, do an environmental audit on my gerbil, open an ethical bank account with a monthly premium and give a tenner to the Forestry Commission every time I use my hair straighteners or else risk being a BAD PERSON. And you don’t want that. Do you.

At first I think myself profoundly depressed by the sinister emotional tools available to green marketeering. And also by the way it reduces environmentalism to the level of lifestyle choice - green marketing has become part of the same marketing “family” as the Boden catalogue. Don’t you want to be irrepressibly happy, middle-class, environmentally conscious, dressed in high-grade combed cotton tops and inclined to leap into the air with a wide grin? What’s wrong with you?

Then I realise that actually I am just resentful because I don’t own a boiler, a toilet, a roof or a gerbil, and therefore no-one is remotely interested in marketing any of this conscience-jangling shit to me. Second class citizen in environmentalism, as in everything else. I’m supposed to just turn the TV off standby and be happy with that, am I? Bastards.

I have put the Green Guide carefully on the floor in case I need it again.


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