13 Jul 2009

Prince Charles v Whitehall

I watched Prince Charles’s Dimbleby lecture last Thursday. In it, he argued that economic growth had hit the buffers and that the future lay in sustainable development. Nothing new there; it’s standard green thinking.

However, it seems to have hit a raw nerve in the rest of the Establishment. Yesterday, the Times carried reports from “senior Whitehall sources” saying basically that the Prince was misguided and that his vision was fatuous. The question is, why should a senior Whitehall source be minded to offer up this stuff to the Times?

The Whitehall growth monkey has some very strange observations to make.

“Within its core, represented strongly in organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, environmentalism still has an ideological greenness that does not like the way we live and does not believe this is what creates fundamentally decent society. That continues to infect the way they think about the changes that we need, so in that sense it is fundamentally wrong.”

Look at the way he uses the word “infect?” Is he worried, or what?

He goes on: “We are aiming to cut emissions by a third in the next 10 years and then by 80% in the next four decades. These things are not happening because the population has had a green psychological transformation,” he said.

“If that were true, we’d never get anywhere, we’d never have got rid of slavery or brought in seatbelts or abolished hanging. No social change is force-driven by mass psychological change. It is about government leading and people changing accordingly.”

Is he right? Reading between the lines I think he’s hinting that the Metropolitan Elite fashion and the proles are then corralled into changing their behaviour. He could have mentioned the ban on smoking in public places as a more recent example. But what if the Metropolitan Elite decides that we can’t go on pursuing endless economic growth because it’s fucking up the environment? What would the Whitehall mandarins do then? Or do the Whitehall mandarins somehow control the Metropolitan Elite, and hence the government?

Everybody knows that green living involves a bit of hair-shirting, but then so does having a recession every ten or twenty years. The reason the green arguments have such resonance at the moment is that the orthodoxy of economic-growth-at-all-costs has imploded and is failing to deliver the promised goods.

And I think the reason Whitehall is worried this time is because the government finances are in such a mess that a return to economic growth is the only way they can be baled out, and even then it will take 20 years or more. But what if economic growth refuses to come back? What if we have hit the buffers this time?