Although saving money is always welcome in these tricky times, it is with a real pang of sadness that I will be cancelling my direct debit to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and resigning my membership. Watching birds gives me untold pleasure throughout the year, and I am generally in favour of any society which seeks to help them, but this week the RSPB went rather further than mere protection.
With its report arguing that we need to accelerate radically the building of onshore wind turbines in the UK, if necessary by easing up the planning system, it became part of the Government’s propaganda machine. Any developer facing the concerns of local conservationists has just been given a bazooka marked “RSPB” with which to destroy the opposition.
No one could accuse the report of being mealy-mouthed. In forthright terms, the RSPB has placed itself firmly among those who believe that the landscape can only be changed by pressure from central government. It is time to adopt a “robust and proactive approach to inshore development”, says the society. Areas of Britain should be formally mapped as suitable for development. Planning law could be revised so “privileged developments” can be pushed through at maximum speed and with minimum fuss.
The Government should “set out and enforce clear instructions, to avoid ongoing debate”, using the planning appeal courts to reinforce its message. Communities should, if necessary, be sweetened up by “a lump sum of money” (based on a proportion of profits linked to the development)”.
It is a bully’s charter, which neatly reflects the view from Whitehall. In a jaw-dropping statement this week, the Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, suggested that to oppose a wind turbine development in your area – any area, that is – should be now regarded as “socially unacceptable… like not wearing your seat belt or driving past a zebra crossing”.
One should not be surprised that a government minister should ignore the fact that developments have varying effects on conservation, the landscape and human life. The Miliband view is that, if a developer chooses a site from which to make money, it is socially unacceptable to object or raise questions.
The Government has a vested interest in this mindless emotionalism; the RSPB has no such excuse. By what right did it spend my money on commissioning a report from a body (part funded by the EU and Defra, incidentally) that will promote the interests of central government and the energy industry? Can we expect a report from the RSPB on nuclear power? It would be interesting to hear on what bird-related evidence it bases its opposition.
Then perhaps we could be told where the RSPB stands on the arguments that investment and propaganda should be put behind insulating buildings rather than constructing showy but inefficient mechanisms which require the back-up of conventional power stations. And when can we expect a RSPB paper on population control?
The truth is that the organisation is betraying its members, and considerably exceeding its remit, by playing politics. Like a supermarket deploying turbines in its marketing, the RSPB believes that by making a big, emotional windy gesture, it will seem both caring and contemporary. It has joined with big business and big government to squash local communities – if necessary by changing the law.
That may make good marketing sense, but I will have nothing to do with it, and I hope many other RSPB members will feel the same way.
Cowen’s Irish eyes aren’t smiling – but they should be
Those who worry that our politicians are humourless and our state broadcaster spineless might cast their eyes across the Irish Sea, where public life seems to be even more po-faced than it is here.
A teacher called Conor Casby painted two unauthorised nude portraits of the Irish Prime Minister Brian “Biffo” Cowen. One, entitled Biffo On The Bog, featured the 49-year-old Taoiseach with a loo-roll in hand, and was hung in one of Dublin’s grander galleries. RTÉ, the state broadcaster, ran a light-hearted report on the exhibition – and then all hell broke loose.
Mr Casby could be charged with indecency, incitement to hatred and criminal damage. An Irish MP has pronounced the showing of the pictures of Mr Cowen a “gross insult” to the Prime Minister’s dignity, while RTÉ has been forced to apologise for any offence caused by its news broadcast.
The nation’s free speech organisations have not yet become involved, but maybe they should. Never has it been more important to defend the right to make a joke – even at the expense of a politician’s precious dignity.
Forget the critics and just enjoy the campery
Going to the theatre for a living can have a grim, grinding effect on a person’s sense of fun, to judge by some of the reviews for the gloriously outrageous musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which opened this week. On press night, the audience quickly fell under the spell of the campery, the mad costumes and the wildly over-the-top musical routines, and gave the cast a foot-stomping, standing ovation.
Not everyone was having fun, it turned out. A few of the notices this week have been so aggressively grumpy that I found myself wondering whether I had attended the same show.
Audiences will have the last laugh, I suspect. A musical set around the journey of three drag queens across Australia in a bus may not be intellectually challenging but, like the best kind of music-hall once was, it offers a perfect rowdy, colourful escape from the gloom and anxiety outside.