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Whose future?

December 1, 2003 12:00 AM
By Paul Burall in Challenge

Andy Mayer of Liberal Future's article is likely to raise a few hackles among Green Liberal Democrats.

Some of his arguments are clearly flawed. For example, he claims that our intention to deliver an economy that uses less energy is incredible as economic growth is bound to increase energy use. Yet the last 20 years has demonstrated that energy use has already been disconnected from economic growth and the scope for further efficiency gains is huge and well-known.

Yet, while denying our ability to use energy more efficiently, Andy Mayer believes that "incentivising R&D" can overcome the problems of air travel despite the fact that, in recent years, the rate of growth has exceeded improvements in aircraft efficiency by some three times.

Perhaps the key area of disagreement between Green Liberal Democrats and Liberal Future is that the latter appear to see economic growth as an end in itself while the Green Liberal Democrats see it simply as a tool towards an improved quality of life.

Not all economic growth is good: increasing crime creates a demand for more policemen, more insurance, more security equipment, more prison building, and, of course, more purchasing to replace the stolen goods and damage. Yet few people would argue that increased crime benefits society.

Liberal Future also fails to recognise that there are some overwhelming environmental imperatives. The key one is climate change. Unless we take drastic measures in the next few years, we will be suffering more droughts, more flooding and greater storm damage. Worse, people in some other parts of the world will see their countries become uninhabitable through flooding or as food and water sources disappear. It is for this reason that Liberal Democrats have adopted the policies that have so upset Liberal Future.

Nevertheless, we should recognise that there is some truth in what Andy Mayer writes. For example, his point about claims that an improved environment will reduce health service costs is clearly correct: just because people live longer will not reduce their lifetime health needs but merely postpone the costs.

Neither should we completely dismiss his criticism that some environmentalists go too far in imposing rules and regulations that are of minor or no benefit. For example, I know of one local authority that refuses to empty wheelie bins if the lid is not shut, arguing that restricting the amount that people can throw away forces them to recycle.

Green enthusiasm must always be tempered by common sense and a belief that working with the grain of public opinion is far better than a dictatorial 'we know best' approach. However, we should reject the Liberal Future principle that we should never adopt policies that do not have immediate vote-winning potential.

One of the most important differences between our Party and the others is that we look beyond the next election and take a long-term view of the future. This makes us adopt some policies that may not be particularly popular today but are essential to give our children and grandchildren a decent future. We should be proud of our principles, not bend them to every electoral expediency.

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