No one can accuse Owen Paterson of going down without a fight. In an outspoken piece for the Sunday Telegraph he vented his anger not at the Prime Minister (who sacked him as Environment Secretary in last week’s reshuffle), but at a mysterious object he calls the ‘Green Blob’:
“By this I mean the mutually supportive network of environmental pressure groups, renewable energy companies and some public officials who keep each other well supplied with lavish funds, scare stories and green tape. This tangled triangle of unelected busybodies claims to have the interests of the planet and the countryside at heart, but it is increasingly clear that it is focusing on the wrong issues and doing real harm while profiting handsomely.”
“I soon realised that the greens and their industrial and bureaucratic allies are used to getting things their own way. I received more death threats in a few months at Defra than I ever did as secretary of state for Northern Ireland. My home address was circulated worldwide with an incitement to trash it…”
One doesn’t doubt that these threats were received (from lunatics), but what, if anything, do they have to do with the mainstream environmental movement?
Paterson does make a specific allegation against one campaign group:
“I was burnt in effigy by Greenpeace as I was recovering from an operation to save my eyesight.”
That sounds nasty, but it never happened. What did happen was that a Greenpeace activist wearing a papier-mâché Owen Paterson mask rowed down the Thames in a dinghy to make a point about the recent floods and climate change. Personally, I dislike effigies of any kind – including those burned on Guy Fawkes night – but as far as effigy-related protests go, the Greenpeace stunt was of the gentlest variety.
However, the real inaccuracy in Owen Paterson’s article is that the “Green Blob” exists at all. Yes, there are green campaign groups – and these could be described as a lobby (a pretty incoherent one given their many internal disagreements over issues like wind farms and shale gas), but a blob is much more than a mere lobby.
Earlier this year, I tackled the issue of blobs in my contribution to a collection of essays published by Bright Blue:
“In the field of education policy the coalition of interests seeking to block academies, free schools and other vital reforms is known to its enemies as the ‘blob.’ I would argue that energy policy has its own blob – a loose of alliance of civil servants, regulators, the big energy companies and misguided environmentalists. This isn’t a conspiracy so much as the usual depressing resistance to anything that might upset the established distribution of jobs, influence, funding streams, subsidies and opportunities to fleece the consumer.”
Clearly, there’s some overlap between the Paterson and Franklin definitions of blobhood, but I would add two key criteria:
The first is that a blob must have the power to sabotage the implementation of government policy, not merely protest against it. For instance, while the green groups lobbied hard for the Climate Change Act, it was Parliament that passed it – and Parliament which could, if it so desired, repeal it. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth wouldn’t be happy, but the Government doesn’t rely on them to implement its energy policy.
The second and related criterion is that within any particular policy area, the blob is always where the most money is – i.e. whoever’s raking in the most cash, has the firmest grip on funding streams and the greatest interest in keeping things that way. In this regard, Owen Paterson is quick to point out that the green lobby is in receipt of public funds:
“The Green Blob sprouts especially vigorously in Brussels. The European Commission website reveals that a staggering 150 million euros (£119 million) was paid to the top nine green NGOs from 2007-13.”
Certainly, that’s a sizeable economic interest. I’d like to see a proper breakdown of what this money was used for. But, if, as has been claimed, it was to help build-up civil society groups in the former communist countries of central and eastern Europe, then there are worse uses of public funds. (For a taste of what life is like in a growing economy unrestrained by pesky environmentalists, you can always move to China and breathe in the sweet air of freedom they have in downtown Beijing.)
In any case, we need some perspective here: the amount spent by the EU on the Common Agricultural Policy in the same period was well in excess of £300 billion – a mighty torrent of subsidy flowing through the pockets of bureaucrats, farmers, landowners and the big agri–industrial corporations. Think about all the political influence that goes into keeping that particular money-fountain gushing away.
The same goes for energy policy. Yes, there are subsidies for solar panels and the like – but compare those to the vast financial, diplomatic and military effort that goes into supporting our dependency on fossil fuels and nuclear power. Again, think about those who suck up the profits: the big energy companies at home; the European corporate entities that own most of our big energy companies; the big American polluters who bankroll a global campaign of anti-environmental propaganda; Vladimir Putin and his gang of Russian oligarchs; and, of course, the various despotisms of the Middle East.
Now, that’s what I call a blob.