I worry about the state of public debate in this country. We have serious issues, some of which go back to the last government, some to the one before it, some even further and some have arisen under this government. All are serious problems for the United Kingdom as a whole and for the individuals concerned. All would be better and more easily solved by open discussion, rigorous debate and consensus. The coalition represents that, but others will not engage in serious and sensible debate.
Instead the problems are denied by the official opposition and campaigning groups. The government’s attempts at consultation and its proposals are misrepresented and denounced for what they are not. Hundreds of thousands are signing petitions against plans that do not exist.
Woodlands are the perfect example. The government has launched a consultation. Oppositions politicians and usually well-informed group denounce the sell-off of all England’s woodlands. The facts were trampled in the stampeded to misrepresent and denounce. The facts: only 18% of England’s woodland is owned by the Forestry Commission, most is and always has been privately owned; the government has asked for comments on transferring heritage and other forests to public interest trusts, locally or nationally, leasing commercially exploitable forests (mostly currently exploited by the Forestry Commission’s commercial arm) on long leases under strict terms to protect the public interest, and other measures to turn the Forestry Commission into a regulator of forests. How many who misrepresent and denounce will read the consulation paper and comment? Then last week, critics danced because the government was back-tracking. In fact, a sale programme started by the Labour government was being suspended because the terms to protect the public interest were inadequate.
We must get sensible about all this if we are to solve our country’s problems.