Thursday, 22 October 2015

Michael Meacher- the greatest environment secretary we never had

I worked as a specialist researcher for Michael Meacher in the nine months running up to the 1997 General Election landslide win for labour, preparing policy papers as Michael advanced the g cause of sustainability as shadow environmental protection secretary. As you rightly record Tony Blair chose to break Labour Party rules in denying Michael  his rightful place as a Cabinet minister. Nonetheless, as one of several junior minister sin John Prescott’s super-ministry covering  Environment, Transport and  regional government, Michael de facto led the environmental brief for several years until Margaret Beckett was appointed as  full Environment Secretary.

He spent un unusually long time- six years – as a junior minister in the same post, and gradually grew tired of both ministers and departmental officials and advisory panels  undermining true environmental policies, as Blair’s Number 10 interfered over policies on genetic modification and nuclear energy, on  which he was extremely skeptical.

Indeed,  barely days after the world’s greatest terrorist  event, the attacks on 9/11 in the US, he had a stand up  fight in the Environment Department with Mrs Beckett, who was pushing through the Blair-backed plan to trade globally with nuclear explosives  in opening  a plutonium-fuels fabrication plant at Sellafield, costing several billion pounds. Blair won, but Meacher was right, as the plant has proved a technical failure and economic disaster.

After that, Michael decided his own advisors could not be trusted as objective (as his friend and political fellow traveller on the left,Tony Benn had done in the late1970s), again over dodgy nuclear advice), and he created shadow advice panel on radioactive waste, including myself, which did its best to present him with more objective evidence-based advice than his own departmental  officials were presenting him.

Time has proved our independent advice significantly more accurate, as the nuclear waste disposal strategy finally collapsed too.

Time will show Michael Meacher the best Environment Secretary we never had.

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