- Private Eye, No. 1150; 20 January - 2 Feb 2006
Green Grow the Tories-O
One of David Cameron's first moves on becoming Tory leader was to set up a Quality of Life Policy Group to spend 18 months developing a new, greener environment policy. The group is chaired by former Environment Secretary John Gummer "backed up" by new Tory parliamentary hopeful, Zac Goldsmith, editor of the Ecologist magazine.
There was scepticism from the outset about how the pair would get on, especially given their divergent views on nuclear power (Goldsmith is dead against; Gummer - who has the Sizewell plant on the edge of his Suffolk Coastal constituency, likes to be considered "thoughtfully pro-nuclear").
But this isn't the only issue likely to cause acrimony. Goldsmith's Ecologist has been championing a campaign by the organization Karma Banque to drive down the share price of the Coca Cola Company. Karma Banque, the brainchild of green activist, Max Keiser, organizes "smart boycotts" of companies it considers unethical, and, at the same time, sells the company's shares short, inviting hedge funds to pile in and do the same. Every time the company's share price drops, Karma Banque collects a profit, which it pledges to use to help the world's poor.
Goldsmith has been scathing about Coca Cola's activities in India, accusing the company of forcing people to travel eight miles a day to find clean drinking water, and says he thinks Karma Banque might be able to wipe close to 2 billion off Coca Cola's market value. Karma Banque certainly seems to be having an effect. Las week Goldman Sachs adjusted its rating for Coca Cola downward, forecasting reduced demand in Europe. And to whom can the rattled soft drinks manufacturer turn for help as its stock values tumble? Step forward Sir John Gummer, chairman of Coca Cola's UK environmental advisory board.
Of course John "Beefburger" Gummer has other business interests which make him an ideal choice for Cameron's environmental policy team. For example, he is also on the payroll of the French utility conglomerate Veolia Environement, formerly known as Vivendi, as chairman of its water operations. Its sister company is none other than the controversial waste firm Onyx - a regular on the Environment Agency's pollution hit list.
In 2004 two of its UK incinerators were named in the infamous top 20 producers of hazardous waste. A year earlier it was fined 10,000 pounds for breaching waste rules. And in March 1999, just over a year after Gummer joined Vivendi, the Environment Agency listed Onyx as number two in its Hall of Shame table after it was fined 95,000 pounds for losing some radioactive material while demolishing its Birmingham incinerator. (It is now in dispute with green campaigners over plans to build new ones.)
Veolia Water says it has little to do with its sister company. But as the debate rages over hazardous emissions from incinerators, the fact that they deter people from recycling, that burning rubbish is seen as a waste of natural resources, we have to ask: will Gummer's review of Tory policy please those who pay his board salary or the green lobby?
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