Shouty warblers, bearded tits... QUENTIN LETTS witnesses the Westminster flock descend on the wetlands for Theresa May's big speech on environmental policy
Stonechat and wigeon at the south-west London wetlands were peaceably pecking about their birdy business yesterday when they were interrupted by some decidedly peculiar birds: the Westminster flock, all shouty warblers and redwings (not to mention the odd bearded tit).
Theresa May visited the wetlands, by the Thames at suburban Barnes, to make her big speech on environmental policy. She was accompanied by the usual gallumphing caravan of MPs, lobbyists, reporters and Special Branch heavies.
At first the wintry wetlands were placid, dawn’s dank mist alleviated only by the odd chirrup and caw. A couple of hours later it was mayhem, with TV arc lights and ‘lives to the studio’.
The PM seized the chance to peer through binoculars to see what was going on out on the wetlands as she unveiled her plans
Mrs May was accompanied on her big announcement on the environment by Environment Secretary Michael Gove
Less detritus in our hedgerows and coastal waters can only be welcome
Ministers and Tory MPs and BBC grandees and eco-schmoozers – one wreathed with enough aftershave to punch a hole in the ozone layer – had crowded into a Scandi-design, open-beam room overlooking the protected marshlands. Out on the ponds I saw a coot looking distinctly puzzled.
Police marksmen surveyed the horizon for anything more sinister than a skein of shoveler ducks. Environment Secretary Michael Gove waddled about in best plumage. In the front row sat Zac Goldsmith, local MP. Mr Goldsmith is a long-standing environmentalist and does not bestow his approval lightly, but he was enthusiastic about Mrs May’s announcement.
Hesitant goose that she is, this PM did not make as much of the photo opportunities as David ‘Hug a Huskie’ Cameron (or Mrs Thatcher with her litter pronger) might have done. She teetered down a waterside path, squired by Gove, to squint through field glasses at a few pintails. That was about it, as far as the PR went. By now local twitchers were recovering their calm. When they had seen the TV vans arrive, they initially thought there must be some fantastically rare species in the wetlands.
For all the reticence, this speech was more substantial than Mr Cameron’s Arctic-sledge theatrics. She announced several measures to reduce pollution. Government waste policies were being altered and the law had already been changed. Most of all, she put Whitehall’s clout behind a long-term plan to stop us despoiling our kingdom and its silvery seas. Officialdom has been given its mulching orders.
Her speech was better written than normal. Was that the pen of Gove in purpling references to Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, to 18th-century naturalist and parson Gilbert White and to William Wordsworth’s line about ‘the calm that Nature breathes among the hills’?
We seldom hear Mrs May speak such flowery words, nor hear her endorse the Right-wing philosopher Roger Scruton and his belief that environmentalism and conservatism’s goal is ‘home, the place that defines us, that we hold in trust for our descendants’.
Here was a surprisingly eloquent distillation of moral green Toryism, a hundred miles from libertarianism’s mercantile selfishness.
During questions, Mrs May praised the Mail for its environmental campaigning – ‘it has shown the public this is an important issue’ – and the BBC for its Blue Planet series. She disclosed that she and husband Philip have installed barn-owl boxes and bat boxes in their garden. No barbs about old bats, please. Nor will we descend to the level of mentioning synthetic Cabinet ministers after hearing Mrs May enthuse about recycling plastic objects.
Zac Goldsmith is a long-standing environmentalist and does not bestow his approval lightly
As far as plastic bottles went, she harked back to the days of Corona fizzy-pop glass bottles, which had a returnable 6d deposit. That reference was lost on one of the sketchwriting guild’s younger subalterns. He had only heard of Corona the trendy Mexican beer.
Anyway, good on Mrs May. Less detritus in our hedgerows and coastal waters can only be welcome and she has given a voice of sorts to the mute birds and bees and fauna. It may do her no harm electorally.
Her opponents were certainly stung by yesterday’s speech, Labour MP Mary Creagh going into a mad fever and issuing a flurry of press releases to say the PM was doing too little too late, etc. File them in the recycling bin, Marjorie.
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