Shots from the shires
For as long as this column has been recording the political scene, change has been a given because that is the nature of government. It takes a bright politician to come over the parapet with a plan or decision, a brave one to admit that change might improve it.
To mark Armistice Day in this the most evocative of years, the Royal British Legion has opted for a grittier and more widely deployed depiction in lifesized silhouette of a First World War Tommy holding a rifle, christened ‘the silent soldier’. A poignant reminder of a time that we should all remember. Enter the local councillors of the New Forest village of Brockenhurst, who decided that the sight of a soldier or, more particularly, his rifle might alarm or offend villagers. Their masterplan was to tie poppies to lampposts instead. A 1,000-signature online petition perhaps reminded them of the next local election and those guardians of village sensibilities wisely changed their minds.
Then there are those politicos who, seeing the way in which the wind is wafting, try to obfuscate their initial error of judgment or prejudice by offloading the responsibility onto others. Thus did Labour’s Environment Minister in the Welsh Assembly, Hannah Blythyn, making successive decisions of such variance as to beggar belief.
Initially, she chose to ignore a detailed, evidence-based narrative review by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) on the use of firearms, predominantly for game shooting, on public land. It advised maintenance of the status quo on the basis of demonstrable sustainability and additional revenue generation.
Blythyn wrote to the NRW and requested it ignore the conclusions of its report because, “the Welsh Government does not support commercial pheasant shooting”, which came as a surprise even to her Labour administration. Then, when the NRW board voted to ignore the report’s findings and the chilly breeze of public admonition began to blow, she told the NRW that her first letter did not bind them to accept or follow the position she had first suggested and that it was all their fault. Welsh taxpayers are left pondering the value of the £50,000 report they funded and, more pertinently, of their Environment Minister.