Warning to the working classes: the government is coming after your pleasures again. It is you who are being blamed for environmental degradation and you who will be made to pay the price. The latest wheeze of environment secretary George Eustice is to ban plastic sachets of tomato ketchup, soy sauce and whatever else from takeaways. Evidence has shown, he says, that these little sachets 'can cause considerable harm to the marine and terrestrial environment when disposed of incorrectly'.
Fair enough, in that we would all be better off if food manufacturers could find biodegradable substitutes for their packaging. But why is it always what might be described as common pleasures which ministers fixate upon when trying to solve social and environmental problems? Around my way I can’t say I have noticed too many fast food sachets, but I do come across the odd discarded shotgun cartridge and piece of fishing line. Eustice seems rather less keen to ban these forms of plastic pollution.
It was the same with alcoholism; we had swift government action of alcopops and cheap lager, not on merlot and chardonnay guzzled by middle-class drinkers. It is 15-year-old Ford Fiestas being driven off the road by low emission zones, not brand new Range Rovers. It is invariably fast food which gets threatened with fat and sugar taxes, rather than the equally fatty and sugary food served in posh restaurants.
But snobbery is a feature of the kind of Tory, green welly environmentalism espoused by Eustice and his like. Their objections to things like fast food sachets are as much aesthetic as environmental; they are guided by a distaste for the masses. They will moan about hikers’ boots causing erosion, but think nothing of the far greater damage caused by the tyres of 4x4s driven in the same sensitive environments.
No-one demonstrates this attitude better than Stanley Johnson, who was quite happy to join a Extinction Rebellion protest in Trafalgar Square – a group which calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be net zero by 2025 – but thinks nothing of flying out to his villa in Greece.
Needless to say, while the rest of us find our lifestyles diminished, landowners stand to do very well out of the government’s zero carbon policy. We could have used Brexit as an opportunity to cut out £3 billion a year in agricultural subsidies. Instead, Eustice announced this week that the government will continue to dole out money to landowners, only from now on it will be available to fund ‘rewilding’ projects. In reality, this means private nature reserves which the great unwashed will have to pay for but will be unable to enjoy other than in fleeting glances.
Extinction Rebellion and the like are an irritant and offer nothing sensible to resolve environmental issues. But they do not have the power of the Tory green welly brigade, which quietly feathers its nest while using the climate and the environment as cover.