This afternoon I took a walk in Oxleas Woods, that ancient woodland covering a few precious acres of Shooters Hill near where we live. Apart from the silence (interrupted only by the distant rumble of traffic and the noise of scores of birds going about their avian life) I was alone for most of the time, free to wonder the intersecting pathways and enjoy the space and emptiness. I could breathe in deeply the majestic life of the trees whose roots in this place go back thousands of years.
It might not have been so had developers in the 1930’s had their way and continued building to the summit of the Hill. Thankfully people concerned to conserve at least some of these ancient woods mounted a successful campaign to prevent them. It was against this backdrop that I recalled that the government has published its reformed Planning Act, a ‘radical reform of the planning agenda giving new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals’ which critics fear ‘could lead to inappropriate development in the countryside’. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
It’s not long ago that the Government (namely the Conservative majority) proposed selling off publically owned forests causing a major outcry which led to the Government dropping the proposal. But there seems no such reaction at present to the inevitable privatisation of the Royal Mail (will they wait until the Golden Jubilee celebrations are over?) And no one knows what is going to happen to the NHS consequent to the debacle over – Conservative – legislation which many see as the thin edge of privatisation.
Then there is the matter of the Governments proposal to suspend Sunday trading Laws during the Olympics. “(This) will not only contribute to the overall experience of visitors to the Olympics, but it will also provide a boost in sales and employment to the economy. (Business Minister, Mark Prisk). But, as many point out, once they are relaxed large stores are going to fight to retain the right to open whenever they want. It all seems frightening close to that new definition of being human – ‘I shop, therefore I am’.
As someone once said, ‘everything has a price, but nothing has any value’.
So my reflection, ‘What is a Conservative?’ Dictionary definitions include: ‘Favouring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change. Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit. Moderate; cautious.’ But it is clear that the notion that something may have value beyond the economic seems to have been cast aside, forgotten or ignored in a headlong rush to maximise monetary rewards. Perhaps ‘The Conservative and Unionist Party’ should rename itself ‘The Capitalist and Turn-a-Profit Party’, which seems a more apt and honest description of what ‘Conservatives’ actually stand for.