I am pleased that the coalition is about to announce that they’re shelving their plans to sell off the UK’s national forests. Of course I am. It’s good news that they will remain in public ownership, protected (one assumes) from the more unconstrained vagaries of the market, and hopefully allowed to continue quietly growing and peacefully sheltering what remains of our wildlife.
But, well, forests aren’t people, nor are they vital public services, and if I were to be given the choice I can’t help thinking that I’d rather save NHS jobs, education funding and, yes, libraries, over woodlands. It’s doubtful that the forests would have been immediately chopped down to make way for motorways had they been sold off: as I understand it this wasn’t a question of saving the trees themselves, but of preserving the woodlands’ status as public property. It’s absolutely worth doing and I’m glad the proposal has been reversed, but I’d still prefer to divert the money into, to take an example from this morning’s news, midwifery services in the West Midlands, which are so underfunded that it’s been suggested that one third of perinatal deaths last year could have been prevented had community midwives not been working at 150% of their recommended caseload. By all means let’s look after the trees, but if we have to decide where to make cuts, it would be nice if we could look after the people first.
On the Today programme this morning it was announced that the proposal to sell off the forests had come under attack from public figures “including several actors and the Archbishop of Canterbury”. Forgive me, but if we ever reach the time when we take our political cues from actors and the Archbishop of Canterbury, we’ll be in straits so dire we may never make it back again.
(Incidentally, that Guardian piece contains an account of a debate on the subject between Ed Miliband and David Cameron which, if it’s accurate, suggests that not only are we all going to hell, we’re being led there by a cabal of schoolboy bullies:
Yesterday Miliband mocked Cameron over the plans. The Labour leader said: “Even he must appreciate the irony: the guy who made the tree the symbol of the Conservative party flogging them off round this country. He says they are consulting on this policy. They are actually consulting on how to flog off the forests, not whether to sell off the forests. Is the prime minister now saying that he might drop the policy completely?”
Cameron replied: “I would have thought the whole point about a consultation is that you put forward some proposals, you listen to the answer and then you make a decision. I know it is a totally alien concept but what is so complicated about that?”
Miliband said: “Everybody knows you have to drop this ludicrous policy. Let me give him the chance to do it. Nobody voted for this policy; 500,000 people have signed a petition against the policy. Why doesn’t he, when he gets up at the dispatch box, say not say he is postponing the sale but say he is cancelling it?”
Cameron replied: “Once again, he read the question before he listened to the answer. I think the bandwagon has just hit a bit of a tree.”
I mean, really. Heaven help us all.)