The government has repeatedly pledged to maintain high environmental standards. It appears, however, that important laws to protect the environment are now at risk. The prime minister has again claimed that environmental assessments hold up housebuilding, and has promised the “most radical changes” to the planning system since the Second World War. There are rumours of deregulatory measures, including those that weaken laws to protect habitats and wildlife. Furthermore, the government’s flagship environment bill has been delayed and its new body to enforce environmental laws after Brexit will not be ready in time.
Countless reviews, including those commissioned by the government, have shown that environmental laws guide good development when implemented well. There is no public appetite for deregulation, with 93% of Conservative voters wanting to maintain or strengthen protections for habitats and wildlife.
Rebooting our economy should be done in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the environmental and climate emergencies. Ripping up important laws and lowering standards would be a betrayal of commitments and reduce our international standing.
We urge the government to bolster environmental protection by dispelling rumours of deregulation and bringing forward the environment bill without further delay.
Hilary McGrady, director-general, the National Trust
Craig Bennett, chief executive, the Wildlife Trusts
Beccy Speight, chief executive, RSPB
Shaun Spiers, executive director, Green Alliance
Richard Benwell, chief executive, Wildlife and Countryside Link
Tanya Steele, chief executive, WWF
What are care homes for?
Before reforming the care sector, we need to answer the question: what are care homes for (“After the fear, now the reform: care sector debates future of our elderly”, News)? Are they to keep elderly patients alive for as long as possible, regardless of health and quality of life? Or are they to provide a setting for our elderly to die in comfort and peace? Until society decides how we want to approach death, which is a natural part of life, no reform of the sector will be a success.
Starmer’s Scottish problem
Andrew Rawnsley’s celebration of Keir Starmer’s centrism, coupled with his jibes at the Corbynist left, will go down much better in England than in Scotland (“Starmer’s sacking of Long-Bailey was vital to show that Labour is changing”, Comment). He should remember that the Blairite politicians who supported the Better Together campaign in 2014’s independence referendum came to be known as “red Tories”. The Labour vote subsequently collapsed in Scotland, to the point that Ian Murray is its only MP.
Corbyn’s failure in Scotland was due not so much to ideology but to the fact that many of his policies, like free university tuition fees, were already in place. With Starmer’s centrism, however, England sends to us a pseudo-Blairite electoral message; namely that a vote for any unionist party will be a choice between Tory and Tory-lite. At least, this will be the perception in much of Scotland. The name “red Tory” will be hard to live down.
Bring back big government
While Gordon Brown is correct in claiming that a Keynesian-like stimulus is needed for recovery, he fails to recognise that the instruments needed to deliver the recovery are broken (“We are in desperate need of a recovery plan. But the Treasury has gone missing”, Comment).
Financial markets that are wedded to speculation are the least likely candidates to finance innovative startups. Better to finance a new industrial bank from a levy on the banks. It is foolish to expect institutions geared towards short-term speculative activity to finance long-term innovative investment. Leaving economic policy with the Treasury is equally foolish.
What is needed is a government department whose priority is economic and industrial recovery, rather than one whose members are committed to economic non-intervention. We need a new department of industry and trade, with the power to direct and manage the economy.
We also need a return of big government, a government powerful enough to manage the economy for the benefit of all. The free market has failed and it is time politicians recognised that.
Fashion’s cruel past
The sum of £293,000 for a Himalaya Birkin bag (“The enduring attraction of vintage fashion”, Focus)? That’s a bag made from the skin of Nile crocodiles – the bag from which Jane Birkin asked for her name to be removed, after being alerted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to horrifically cruel methods of keeping and killing crocodiles and alligators for their skins.
It’s not so much status symbol as a declaration by the owner that vanity outweighs any concern for animal suffering. According to Oriole Cullen at the V&A, “the landscape of fashion has completely changed in the last two decades”. I’d like to think that it has changed in the direction of compassion, with many designers now pledging not to use exotic animal skins or fur.
Barford St Michael,
A master class
I would like to support the view of Christina Jansen, director of The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, with a little history (“It’s time the art world ditched the term ‘old master’, says Tate director”, News).
The word “master” was used throughout medieval Europe and in earlier cultures, way before today’s “art world” existed.
All visual craft skills were economically viable trades, and every artisan had to follow a similar career path, ie to work under a master, first as an apprentice, then as a “journeyman”. Only after producing their “masterpiece” for the approval (or disapproval) of a group of masters could they become a “master”.
The word was not gender specific. More “masters” were men than women only because of the way society was.
Should we now alter that history for the sake of our own prejudices? Surely that would just be another form of cultural imperialism. The fact is the word “master” is appropriate to Old Masters but not so much to painters and sculptors since then, because the art colleges, which have been producing most “artists” since the late 18th century, do not provide the same degree of training.
Hastings, East Sussex
Difference of opinion
As I could only find five out of six changes in your “Spot the difference” competition (the New Review), I’m presuming that the final one is that the Trump in picture 2 is denying what the Trump in picture 1 has just said.
Steyning, West Sussex
• The first letter in this package was amended on 5 July 2020 because an earlier version omitted the WWF chief executive Tanya Steele from the signatories.