Enviornment falls off election agenda

POLITICIANS in Suffolk - and across Britain - are ignoring a key issue for young voters in the current general election campaign.While immigration, asylum, and taxation have all been key issues in the election battles so far, young voters we have spoken to are frustrated that little, if anything, has been said about the environment or international development.

POLITICIANS in Suffolk - and across Britain - are ignoring a key issue for young voters in the current general election campaign.

While immigration, asylum, and taxation have all been key issues in the election battles so far, young voters we have spoken to are frustrated that little, if anything, has been said about the environment or international development.

We went back to a group of students from Suffolk College that we met shortly before the election campaign started.

And they weren't impressed by what they had seen or heard since the campaign started.

James Baxter explained: “They're just not talking about issues that young people are interested in.

“We hear all this about immigration and asylum, but that's not the issue that we need to be thinking about.

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“Why don't they talk more about how they would combat greenhouse gas or about the problems facing the third world, especially Africa?”

This frustration was shared by several other students planning to vote for the first time.

Rory Porter said: “Why won't they talk about the issues which will affect our lives, and those of our children and grandchildren, for years to come?

“It seems as if the politicians are only interested in the issues that they can deal with over the next five years, not in the future of the planet as a whole.”

Their views were, perhaps surprisingly, supported by politicians from across the county.

Tim Yeo is the Conservative environment spokesman and said politicians and the media must share responsibility for marginalising the issue.

He said: “I think there is a justification for calls for more time to be devoted to the issue. There are many voters for which these kind of issues are very important.

“As environment spokesman, I do find it frustrating that there isn't more time and effort devoted to the subject - it is very important for the future of the planet.

“And the question of aid and development is directly linked to immigration and asylum.

“If countries become more prosperous there isn't the incentive for their people to try to leave to find better jobs elsewhere.

“And prosperous countries are more likely to develop into democracies - meaning they aren't likely to develop so many asylum-seekers.”

Dave Monaghan is Labour candidate for Bury St Edmunds and shared the students' irritation.

“I feel we have a good message to get across - from the laws the Labour government has passed which has increased the amount of material that is recycled through to our commitment to Africa.

“At a meeting with parliamentary candidates, Tony Blair detailed how the British government was hoping American politicians would pressure President Bush into signing the Kyoto Treaty on climate change.

“We have a good message to get across - but it isn't hitting the headlines,” he said.

The Liberal Democrats are the one party to have given environmental issues a high priority in their election manifesto.

However Andrew Houseley, who is standing for the party in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, admitted questions on the environment generally and on overseas aid did not feature heavily on the doorsteps.

“You do find specific environmental issues that are important - for instance in this constituency there are concerns about Snoasis at Great Blakenham and about the proposed wind farm at Parham.

“But on the doorsteps the issues that are going to concern voters most are more bread-and-butter issues like taxes and public services.”

What the party manifestos say about the environment and development:

LABOUR:

One page in the 112-page manifesto concentrating on local environmental efforts. A page and a half is devoted to climate change and Africa - saying that the British government has met its Kyoto obligations and increased overseas aid.

CONSERVATIVE:

Two paragraphs on green issues - talking about phasing out CFCs and promoting sustainable energy. One paragraph pledging to increase aid spending to meet the UN target of 0.7 per cent of national income on aid by 2013.

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT:

One page in a 20-page manifesto is devoted to the environment with a commitment that a Liberal Democrat government would take the lead in tackling climate change. A page is devoted to the party's international development policy - including promoting fair trade with the third world.

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