Archive for June, 2013

Blanc, Boles and Motion: three speeches

I listened to three good speeches yesterday.

In the evening, I attended CPRE ambassador Raymond Blanc’s investiture as Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and, as a bonus, in the Ordre du Mérite agricole.  The event took place at the residence of the French Ambassador and it was, as you can imagine, very French.

I arrived a little late, having tried unsuccessfully to get into the Russian Ambassador’s residence, so I missed the Ambassador’s 30 minute tribute to M. Blanc.   But I heard Raymond Blanc’s very witty and impassioned response – a little over the four minutes 52 seconds he had promised, but well worth listening to.

“I love food,” he said, “because it connects with everything, our land, our traditions, our society, our agriculture, our health, our environment.  It connects with ethics, sustainability and responsible luxury.  The food choices we are making today will influence very much the world we are going to have tomorrow.”  I particularly like the idea of ‘responsible luxury’ – though he went on to talk about hunger, and the charities he supports to combat poverty.

Champagne and canapés with lots of foodies was a treat after CPRE’s AGM.  This was stormy, as reported in today’s papers, but not in the way they suggest.  The real passion was expended in the morning during a debate on a procedural motion to amend CPRE’s Articles of Association – there is nothing like a good constitutional wrangle to get the blood pumping.  By the time Nick Boles spoke in the afternoon, the mood was comparatively sunny.

So while I yield to no one in my admiration for the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, and their fine journalists, I think their descriptions of the event are a little lurid.  The Mail’s piece is headlined: “’A liar and a fool!’  Countryside campaigners maul planning minister”.  It says that CPRE members “repeatedly heckled Mr Boles and walked out as he told them those who resist house building will condemn rural villages to being ‘museum exhibits’”.  There was a bit of heckling in the question and answer session, and a couple of delegates who left early to catch trains may have grumbled on their way out, but the speech was listened to with respect.

And it is worth reading.  There is a lot in it with which CPRE agrees.  We want a living countryside, as well as one that is beautiful, and have been outspoken in calling for more rural affordable housing.  But I think those attending the AGM had two main problems with what Nick Boles said. Continue reading ‘Blanc, Boles and Motion: three speeches’

Spending Review: Osborne (almost) sings praises of nature shock!

IN his Spending Review Statement on Wednesday the Chancellor spoke of his belief that ‘the culture heritage of our nations are not just an economic asset, but have great intrinsic value’. I agree absolutely. But while George Osborne saluted the value of ‘our greatest museums, galleries and English Heritage’, funding for community sport, arts and museums will still be reduced by 5%


At least the Chancellor recognised the value of our cultural heritage in his statement. What about the intrinsic value of our natural heritage? The Government published a White Paper on the Natural Environment in 2011, but yet again the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs saw swingeing cuts 10% to its already meagre budgets. On top of this, the Government’s planning reforms are placing huge development pressures on our countryside. In this climate, Government watchdogs on the environment like Natural England and the Environment Agency, and National Park Authorities and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty partnerships – custodians of our finest landscapes – have a vital role to play to protect and enhance our beautiful rural areas. Our fear is that their effectiveness could well be jeopardised by the size of these cuts.


I find it hard to remember George Osborne making a single comment since becoming Chancellor in support of the intrinsic value of England’s unique and precious natural environment, and all the benefits it brings to our economy in terms of tourism and supporting vibrant rural economies. I hope he will take the opportunity to make one soon.   

WI says: ‘end the decline of our high streets’.

I spoke at the Women’s Institute AGM on Saturday, a daunting experience: an audience of some 4,000 women who seemed actually to be paying attention to the speakers. 


I was supporting the following motion:


The National Federation of Women’s Institutes notes the continuing decline of our high streets and the damaging effect this has on local communities.  We call on every member of the WI to support their local shops and make the high street their destination of choice for goods and services.  We call on decision-makers to work collectively, at all levels, to help bring an end to the decline of our high streets and to ensure that high streets flourish and provide a focal point for local communities.

  Continue reading ‘WI says: ‘end the decline of our high streets’.’