On this week’s episode, we investigate the truth about plastic, the environmental enemy du jour in 2018. We also try to find a compromise on tuition fees (if there is one) and ask whether the Church of England are the most ruthless property tycoons in the country.
First up: Whilst terrestrial TV was busy doing battle with its streaming nemeses for prestige drama supremacy, the single biggest televisual hit of 2017 was something rather different. The David Attenborough narrated Blue Planet II smashed to the top of the ratings chart like a marlin cresting a wave, but it also spawned a national outpouring of anti-plastic sentiment. Can we do anything to stop our rivers and oceans being polluted with single use plastic bags and coffee cups? Or is the whole issue more complicated than we ever thought? Ross Clark looks at the government’s new proposals in the magazine this week, and we were joined on the pod to discuss this issue by Fraser Nelson and Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party. As Ross writes:
"Has an albatross ever wielded so much influence? The bewildered chick who regurgitated a plastic bag in front of Sir David Attenborough’s camera crew — fed to him by his mother after she had scooped it from the sea — has caused one of those regular ructions in public opinion. The supermarket chain Iceland has announced it would phase out all plastic packaging from its own-brand foods. The compulsory 5p charge on supermarket plastic bags is to be extended to all shops in England and a 25p ‘latte levy’ may be put on coffee cups containing plastic. Plastic ‘microbeads’ have been banned from cosmetic products."
Today’s students are expected to spend £9,000 for the privilege of a year’s university study. It is unsurprising, therefore, to see so many of them seduced by Labour’s offer to scrap tuition fees. Can, and should, the Tories respond? In his column this week, James Forsyth urges caution, but will Theresa May fall for the same mistakes as Ed Miliband? James joins the podcast alongside Louis Coiffait, associate editor of Wonkhe. As James writes:
"Politically, you can’t get better than free. Fiddling around with the fee level or the repayment threshold isn’t going to be able to compete with Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to junk fees altogether. A review would only help Labour by raising the salience of the issue. What No. 10 hasn’t grasped is that you can’t beat Corbyn with Miliband. Any version of the ex-Labour leader’s 2015 pledge to reduce fees won’t appeal to those seduced by Corbyn’s pledge to scrap them."
And finally, recent disclosures have revealed that the Church of England, in addition to their spiritual duties, are hard-nosed property barons, selling off lands whilst maintaining subterranean mineral rights. So what’s going on? And what does any church need with £8 billion whilst congregations are dwindling? Harry Mount investigates in the magazine and joins the podcast along with Damian Thompson, host of Holy Smoke, our religion podcast. As Harry notes:
"Today, it has nearly £8 billion in assets. It runs 4,700 schools and owns 16,000 churches in England, along with tracts of land in cathedral cities such as Canterbury, Ely, Peterborough and York. In 2014, it bought 50 acres in Peterborough, 121 acres in Carlisle, 765 acres in Kent and 17,000 acres of forests in Wales and Scotland. Its tentacles spread abroad, too: in 2014, the church bought retail and residential land in Michigan and California, 27,000 acres of forest in Virginia, and land for sandalwood plantations in Australia’s Northern Territory."