Are there any limits to what neo-liberal governments won’t sell to private interests?
The highly contentious plans for a £250m sale of England’s forests will be abandoned because of the furious backlash that has hit the Government.
David Cameron humiliated his Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman in the House yesterday, and shocked MPs, when he disowned the policy.
The Prime Minister signalled the retreat when he admitted he was unhappy with the proposals under which woodlands owned and run by the Forestry Commission would be sold off over the next decade.
The U-turn came after MPs and hundreds of thousands of members of the public joined the vigorous protests against moves to transfer 637,000 acres of woodlands into private ownership. Details of the abandonment are expected be spelt out tomorrow by Ms Spelman.
Ms Spelman would not have been amused by the Prime Minister’s comments. Last night Downing Street said Mr Cameron had full confidence in his Environment Secretary. His spokesman said: “He thinks the entire government is doing a good job.”
Mr Cameron, asked by Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, whether he was happy with his “flagship policy” on forests, said: “The short answer to that is no.” With his comments, the Prime Minister effectively pre-empted the conclusions of a consultation exercise on the future of the forests which was due to run for another nine weeks.
The ferocity of the public reaction – with a deluge of protests – stunned Downing Street, which decided to draw a line under the policy early.
It is understood that the Government will scrap the consultation and instead appoint a panel of experts to consider the future of publicly owned woodland.