Of Toffs and Taxes

A FEW MONTHS ago I went to an organic composting course at the Islington Ecology Centre, which is about as green as you can get in north London without dressing in rabbit skins and living off the berries on Hampstead Heath. The atmosphere was very jolly as nice young people told me and other novice gardeners how to build a compost heap. Then one woman asked, “what do I do when my compost bin is full, put kitchen waste and garden rubbish in bin bags on the street?’
The atmosphere chilled in an instant, and the nice young people revealed their dictatorial side. On no account could she throw away recyclable waste, they said. She must get another bin for her overflow vegetable peelings. The poor woman was aghast. She only had a small garden. One great, plastic bin was all right, but two and a wormery? This was not the view she wanted from her kitchen window. The nice young people wouldn’t budge. To them, it was a crime to throw rubbish away.
Soon it may be for all of us if the Government accepts the suggestion from Sir Michael Lyon’s inquiry into local government finance that councils should charge households for every black bag of rubbish they leave on the street.
There’s nothing wrong in principle with what he’s saying. From Thames Water allowing one third of our water to leak away to the supermarkets throwing plastic bags at shoppers, London is a shockingly wasteful city.
If they are to turn principle into practice, however, the authorities are going to have to avoid a repeat of the bungled attempts to reduce congestion. Ten years ago, everyone was in favour of cutting back on car use. But councils blew public support when they handed control of the traffic wardens to private firms with a vested interest in issuing as many tickets as possible regardless of extenuating circumstances. The result is that Londoners rightly regard parking controls as a stealth tax for councils and a source of excessive profit for ruthless corporations.
At least people can see the cars clogging the streets. Global warming is a far harder concept to understand, and one people who are struggling to make a living don’t tend to bother about. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the green leaders Zac Goldsmith, Lord Melchett, George Monbiot, Sir Jonathon Porritt and Prince Charles are all from the upper class. Worrying about the planet is a lifestyle option for those who don’t have to worry about money.
If their ideas are to reach a broader public, the green movement needs to temper its authoritarian streak and recognise that without give and take it will never win popular support.
On the way out of the Ecology Centre, I asked the woman with the small garden what she was going to do with the advice from the nice young people. “Ignore it,” she said.

TO ST PAUL’S Cathedral for the launch of an exhibition about Anne Frank. I thought the evening was going to a write off after a clueless C of E vicar lamented genocide in Europe 60 years ago without once mentioning genocide in the Sudan today. Then Cherie Blair took to the stage.
Despite all the revelations about her fondness for alternative quackery and vastly expensive hairdos, she is still impressive. She won the audience over by speaking plainly and well about the need to uphold universal values and defend the Human Rights Act against its critics on the Right.
We are in the dying days of the Blair administration, but my guess is that she will still be a public figure long after her husband has left Downing Street. Many will find the prospect of Ms Blair going on and on appalling, but I for one won’t mind.

THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE was my best night in the theatre so far this year. The critics made much of the fact that the National revived this Edwardian tale of fraud in a respectable family at the same time as the Enron movie, The Smartest Men in the Room, came out.
I can’t deny that the con the horrified Edward Voysey discovers his father and grandfather have been running is an Enron-style fraud. The Voysey family steals its investors’ money but maintains the illusion of propriety by using capital to pay dividends. I doubt, however, that Harley Granville Barker’s play would have survived for 100 years if it were mere agit-prop with ‘contemporary relevance’. It lives because it explores the perennial themes of the family strife and a boy coming of age.
Every member of the ensemble cast is a pleasure to watch, by the way, and they will be back at the National in August.

GERMANY’S biggest tabloid, Bild, has ‘plumbed new depths,’ roars that guardian of high journalistic standards –er – The Sun. In an ‘unsporting bid to unsettle England’s bid for World Cup glory,’ it has attacked David Beckham’s family by branding his sister ‘fat’ and mother ‘a peasant’.
Obviously, the Sun would never dream of getting at its small army of hate figures through their families. But what are the odds that less ethical journalists won’t be producing ‘unsporting’ personal attacks on the England players and all who know them if they doesn’t buck their ideas up and fast? What are the odds that I won’t be producing a few myself?