How green are the parties really?

AS SOMEONE who has taken an interest in politics since the 1970s and has reported on political issues since the early 1980s, I find politics in Britain becoming curiouser and curiouser.

AS SOMEONE who has taken an interest in politics since the 1970s and has reported on political issues since the early 1980s, I find politics in Britain becoming curiouser and curiouser.

Last week we had the Conservatives launching their new “Quality of Life” policy document addressing Green Issues.

It proposed new green taxes, a clampdown on greenfield development, and curbs on flying and airport expansion. Meanwhile on the same day Lady Thatcher was being feted at 10 Downing Street by a Labour prime minister who praised her as a fellow “conviction politician.”

The implication in that was that the current Conservative leadership are just looking for policies they think people want to hear - an accusation that has been made by several right-wing Tories over recent weeks.

For a pragmatic party trying to win votes it hasn't received since the early 1990s, that is not really something to worry about.

One thing that has been clear over the last three general elections is that the Tories are not going to win by appealing to a right-wing rump.

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But there is still something bizarre to those of us with long political memories to hear the party of Nicholas Ridley and Sir Keith Joseph talking about the need to care for the environment.

During the 1980s the Conservative government seemed to approve every controversial development in the pipeline.

In this area it granted planning permission for new out-of-town superstores surrounding Ipswich which changed the character of shopping in the town.

It allowed sports pitches to be sold off for housing. And controversial new roads were driven through beauty spots despite national and local opposition.

It was only after Nicholas Ridley was forced to resign from the cabinet after some insensitive comments about our European neighbours that there was any brake on this rush for development - it was something of a shock when proposals to develop Chantry Vale and Westerfield Road were turned down on appeal.

At the time the Labour Party, both nationally and locally, was portraying itself as the environmentalists' friend - opposing these developments.

But now the tables are turned.

Labour is in power. There is talk of building “affordable homes” on greenfield sites in south east England.

And senior party figures, like Ipswich MP Chris Mole, have spoken approvingly of the expansion of Stansted airport. Their opponents have warned about the destruction of England's green and pleasant land.

Also the Tories have come out against any further expansion of Stansted . . . after approving the construction of the current terminal and ancillary buildings when they were in power.

Looking back at post-war history, there is a pattern developing.

Back in the 1960s the Labour government pressed on with building motorways and set up a commission to look at possible sites for a third London airport.

It was Ted Heath's Conservative government of the early 70s that proposed, and then abandoned proposals to build an airport in the Thames Estuary.

And it was Labour in the late 70s that set in motion the construction of a new series of motorways, including the M25 and M11.

There seems to be a pattern here: the government of the day, whatever its colour, wants to build - and environmental concerns are put on the back burner.

The opposition - whoever that is - tends to back the green argument.

Which actually all goes to show that whoever you vote for and whoever you believe, it doesn't make a great deal of difference in environmental terms who is in power. There may be tinkering around the edges, but all parties are happy to sacrifice their green credentials for economic success once they get a sniff of power.

WILL Self's backing for the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign at the weekend was clearly seen as good news by protestors - but I can't help feeling his radio debate with Chris Mole was something of an own goal.

He came up with very powerful arguments about how disastrous the expansion would be for Hatfield Forest and how airport buildings were soul-less places - all very true.

But then he shot his argument to bits rather by saying that it would be better to build a new airport on the Thames estuary than expand Stansted.

That would be an environmental cataclysm! The Thames estuary is an internationally-important habitat for birds and building an airport there would be disastrous for the eco-system of the south east of England.

There was a successful battle against building an airport on the Maplin Sands off Foulness in the 1970s and no one wants that proposal to raise its ugly head again.

Frankly Mr Self's argument reeked of Nimbyism - and that's just the kind of support that Stansted protestors can do without.

ANDREW Cann has inherited all his father's drive and determination to succeed in the world of politics in Ipswich - and he's clear got ambitions to end up in the House of Commons.

But Ipswich is a very difficult nut for the LibDems to crack and in next year's elections the battle will be more about holding on to what they already have rather than making spectacular gains.

Mr Cann has done well to become leader of his group on the borough council so soon after first being elected to the council - but he is likely to need a lot more patience if he is ever to achieve his ultimate goal.

Ipswich has a strong Labour Party and the Conservatives have chosen an energetic young candidate with a good political pedigree to fight the seat.

Whoever the LibDems chose to fight the seat at the next election - and I would be astonished if it was not Mr Cann - will have a massive job on their hands to even finish in second place.

And to win the seat might take years, if not decades!

HE might have been doing his bit to save the planet, but something tells me former vice president Al Gore has been eating all the pies during his crusade around the world!

Seeing this picture of him with his wife Tipper, it looks as if he could try consuming a little less!

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