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banner Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Government's green challenge
The government has not offered "leadership" on green issues, Labour MP Joan Ruddock told a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in Brighton on Tuesday.

The recent fuel protests demonstrated that the government had failed to explain its policies on environmental taxation, she argued.

Her remarks were made at an RSPB and SERA sponsored fringe meeting entitled "Winning the green vote."

Whilst Tony Blair prepared for his leader's speech and countryside alliance protesters staged a boisterous rally on the seafront, the panel - which included MSP Sarah Boyack, the Guardian's Polly Toynbee and Graham Wynne of the RSPB - gathered to chew over the impact of recent fuel protests.

Voter rebellion

"Personal behaviour will have to change and governments will have to lead" if real improvements in the environment are to become a reality, urged Ruddock.

Her critical stance on the government's decision not to place green arguments in their forefront of their response to fuel protesters was supported by Toynbee.

"The government failed to reach out for green arguments that might have helped them" persuade fuel protesters of the need to keep tax on fuel high, she said. The result had been a "terrifying and traumatic voter rebellion".

Radical Agenda

Labour MSP Sarah Boyack offered a more upbeat approach to the government's environmental policies, however.

New Labour were "not positive enough about developments" she said - the government should be both "proud" of what it had achieved and "honest enough to say we need to go further".

Both Labour MPs on the platform identified a need for the government to integrate environmental strategies across the board of core Labour policy.

Environmental concerns went to the heart of many social issues, Boyack pointed out. "It's about making connections with people so that environment isn't seen as something separate from them" she said.

"Pensioners living in inefficient houses they can't afford to heat" was as much an issue as larger-scale environmental concerns. The government should "embrace" this "radical agenda" she argued.

Boyack's rallying cry to the government was somewhat undermined by Graham Wynne of the RSPB, however.

Though increasing numbers of people supported environmental groups, he said, and the government would be foolhardy to ignore them , "the green vote is not going to win anybody the next election."

In a recent poll conducted by his organisation, he reported, 30% of those asked didn't know which of the three major parties had the greenest policies.

Rural protest

But countryside groups once again proved they did not fall into that 30%.

A mixed group of protesters waving banners denouncing "Two Jags" Prescott, blowing hunting horns and even waving a confederate flag kept local police occupied for a couple of hours and drew large crowds of onlookers.

The farmers, vets and pro-hunt campaigners had looked closely at the government's environmental strategy, but didn't like what they saw.

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