Who are you calling a blob, Owen Paterson?

As chairman of the National Trust, I’m part of the collection of green groups the former Environment Secretary blames for his sacking. He’s wrong

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

Why did David Cameron send Owen Paterson to Environment if he meant to sack him? Paterson knew and cared about his subject. He wore green wellies with panache, loathed Europe and wind turbines, and argued with everyone. He was a sop to the shires and a bulwark against Ukip. Yet like his colleague Michael Gove, he was found to be ‘toxic’. He has told the Sunday Telegraph that he blames his downfall on the ‘green blob’, on ‘highly paid, globe-trotting, anti-capitalist agitprop’.

Paterson had discovered that the toughest job in government nowadays is no longer foreign affairs or defence, awash in grand crises, whirling dervishes and expensive kit. A Middle East peace treaty is a doddle compared with bovine TB, flood defences, wind turbines, EU grants and renewables subsidies. Paterson found the ferocity of some green lobbyists akin to those in animal rights, purple with rage and immune to reason, humour or courtesy. They are the Ranters, Shakers and Diggers of our age, treating disagreement as a matter not of debate but of extermination.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson Visits Flooded Somerset Levels
Owen Paterson visits flood hit Somerset earlier this year Photo: Getty

I chair a substantial component of Paterson’s blob, the National Trust, and can see where he is coming from. Many supposedly ‘charitable’ groups are nothing of the sort. They are affinity sects with blatantly political programmes, justifying every campaigning excess as ‘saving the planet’. Some are fronts for the smartest money around, wind turbine subsidy, which as Paterson claims, spends vast sums of public cash ‘rewarding rich landowners, with undetectable effects on carbon dioxide emissions’. At a recent meeting in Lincolnshire, I was richly heckled on the glories of wind power by the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, no less. I followed Deep Throat’s admirable advice, ‘Always follow the money.’

The truth is there are many green blobs. The National Trust was set up for the ‘permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands and tenements of beauty or historic interest’. Since the days of Octavia Hill it has campaigned to that end. It is no self-appointed, let alone globe-trotting, lobby. It is four million members who are unlikely to agree on anything beyond a car park and a cup of tea. On badgers, foxes, turbines, fracking, high-speed rail or third runways, the trust embraces every view under the sun. On politics it is a many-headed hydra, not a blob.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson Visits Flooded Somerset Levels
Owen Patterson admitted the Government could have done more to help the residents of Somerset Photo: Getty

As a result it is not easy to steer any campaign through the turbulent waters of the environment. The trust is not in the business of energy policy, farm policy, housing policy or transport policy. Yet it is sucked into all by the sheer range of its interests. In the case of climate change, it seeks to reduce the reliance of its estate on carbon energy, and it tests any proposal for any development of structure against its mission to guard the beauty of the landscape and coastline. Hence its opposition to relevant wind proposals still flooding through the government machine, despite Paterson’s opposition.

In 2011 the trust found itself ranged against the coalition’s draft planning policy, blatantly drafted by construction industry lobbyists with a direct line to the Tory party and Treasury. Rural communities were ordered by Eric Pickles and his junior, Nick Boles, to accept ‘volume housing estates’ wherever profit beckoned, irrespective of local views, green belt or landscape guardianship. The weasel word ‘sustainable’ turned out to mean profitable. The trust was inundated with pleas for help and succeeded in having the draft marginally diluted. We were pushing ‘non-political’ activity to the limit, but the overwhelming reaction of our members was that we should have been even more outspoken, as on turbines.

Politcians at the Houses of Parliament

When politicians complain that people no longer crave participation I say rubbish. They crave it in new ways. There is now real public concern over the state of the environment, whether global, rural or ‘in my back yard’. While Paterson may be right that some wilder ‘planet savers’ are hypocrites, most care desperately about their surroundings. They know, because they can see, their countryside is more menaced by this government’s ‘let rip’ planning reform than at any time since the town and country planning of the 1940s.

To drive with one’s eyes open across England these days is to see how far those charged with defending its visual integrity have failed. Where once there was a clear divide of town from country, urban from rural, unique in most of Europe, there is now emerging an unplanned sprawl of warehouses, toy-town estates, pylons, turbines and advertisements in fields. The visual character of the English landscape is starting to resemble Ireland, Spain or Portugal.

Paterson may claim to have been really fighting with the conservationists. We never saw him at the front. Like Blairites who ‘secretly disowned’ the Iraq war, he must take collective responsibility. He did good work on fisheries. He messed up the badger cull, and came late to upland re-wilding. But his clear affection for the countryside never gained traction in the lobbyists’ paradise that is the court of King Cameron.

It was said after the Greens first surged to prominence in the 1989 European elections that Thatcher offered ‘to drain some of their wetlands for them’. Paterson has been sacrificed on a similarly crass altar. It is unfair, but he should blame the boss, not the blob.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Simon Jenkins, is chairman of the National Trust. He writes a column for the Guardian, and is a former editor of the Times and the London Evening Standard.

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Show comments
  • whs1954

    I’m sorry, but this is a pretty fatuous rebuttal to Paterson’s argument of a left-wing green blob. “No no, we’re rigidly non-political, it’s just that this Government is so rotten and corrupt and right-wing that we’ve simply been forced to oppose them!”

  • Peter Stroud

    A piece of slime from the green blob is safely seated at the head of the Department for Energy and Climate Change. And he is costing us billions, and likely to preside over the lights going out in the near future.

    • you_kid

      The lights going out – this infantile hot air of ukippers who have no clue about how our energy needs are delivered. When the lights off, use the switch to switch it back on, lad. If that doesn’t work for you and you wonder where the light has gone, why not open the door and have a look in the fridge?

  • dalai guevara

    Conservationists, i.e. Conservative Greens.
    How we were ridiculed two years or so ago, even on these very pages.
    Look where we are now.

  • Simon Jenkins doesn’t mention that the National Trust leadership have declared the Trust an army in the fight on climate change.


  • Paul Matthews

    This is a straw man argument from Simon Jenkins. It is clear from Paterson’s original green blob article that the answer to your question,
    “Who are you calling a blob, Owen Paterson?”
    is Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Green Party, not the National Trust.

    If Simon Jenkins is in doubt about this, I suggest he writes to Paterson to ask whether he regards NT as part of the green blob.

    • Paul Matthews

      I note that this article does not link to Paterson’s comments
      which is unfortunate.

      Here is one part of it:
      “Local conservationists on the ground do wonderful work to protect and improve wild landscapes, as do farmers, rural businesses and ordinary people. They are a world away from the highly paid globe-trotters of the Green Blob who besieged me with their self-serving demands”

      The NT is, I believe, part of the former group, not the latter.

  • marc biff

    Bollocks another charidee taken over by the bloody left.

  • artemis in france

    If the leadership at the NT believe that CO2 is an evil gas and emitting it is therefore evil, then they can be considered to be part of the Blob. Until this ridiculous “religion” is abandoned by the mainstream media and the main political parties the Blob will continue to hold sway. Meanwhile, China and India carry on regardless and their économies don’t suffer, unlike ours.

  • NewburyExile

    Simon, the NT could have stopped Pickles and Boles in their tracks by stating that the NT was giving them 24 hours to drop their new planning policy and to apologise unreservedly for ever proposing it or the NT would have the two of them charged with misconduct in public office. The thought of prosecution and possible imprisonment would have grabbed their undivided attention.

    In any event the NT if it felt that strongly could and should have reported both of them to the Conservative Party chairman for misconduct as Conservative MPs and bringing the party into disrepute. I note that all the NT did in fact was its usual have a chat with the chaps and see if something can’t be done.

  • Dodgy Geezer

    “…In the case of climate change, it seeks to reduce the reliance of its estate on carbon energy…”

    And that is enough to show that you are so ignorant of the science that you should not be running a major national organisation, or yet another light green establishment patsy.

    You worry about “..an unplanned sprawl of warehouses, toy-town estates, pylons, turbines and advertisements in fields…”. Learn a little bit about ‘energy generation density’ and find out why ‘low carbon’ is a recipe for the destruction of vast swathes of teh countryside…

  • Kennie

    “At a recent meeting in Lincolnshire, I was richly heckled on the glories of wind power by the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, no less.”

    At a recent meeting in Lincolnshire, I was GLORIOUSly heckled on the RICHES of wind power by the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, no less.
    I think my re-wording is nearer the mark.

    • R Fairless

      Riches is right. He has five wind turbines on his land for which he gets £1,000 PER DAY. An unbelievable, horrendous scam! I get something for nothing from the government as well. Its called Age Addition. You get it when you reach 80. It also is unbelievable at £0.25p PER WEEK.

      • trish kaye

        My head is spinning with your comment. £1,000 PER DAY??? cannot believe that, but do. And you get 25p extra per week, at 80 years old!!! I will not be telling my mother.