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Sense and sensibility when out of office

Am I alone in noticing how senior politicians or, more specifically, former senior politicians, seem so much more sensible when out of office?

It’s obvious really, but it is a shame they felt they could not embrace an enlightened approach so openly in office. Because they have to spend so much time knocking the other lot, it probably gives them less scope to be the genuine article.

For example, ex-cabinet ministers Michael Portillo and Alan Johnson may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but both have definitely shone since being ‘liberated’ from the corridors of power.

I have had the pleasure of listening to two former Conservative environment secretaries at close quarters in recent weeks. Since leaving the coalition Government in 2012, Caroline Spelman has played a prominent role in a series of initiatives from the All-Party Sustainable Resource Group at Westminster, leading with even-handedness and pragmatism. So much so that, at a recent meeting, she urged the sector “to make sure we achieve something ambitious as a collective endeavour” in terms of European policy.

I recently met Lord Deben (John Gummer as was), who served in the equivalent of Defra as minister or secretary of state from 1989 until 1997. As you can see here, he is not afraid to criticise his own party when he feels its policies or approach run counter to important global issues such as climate change and resource efficiency. It’s refreshing.

Lord Deben backs those across the political divide who are calling for a cross-departmental office in Whitehall to oversee resources, including waste. The Lib Dems say they want something of the kind and MRW expects Labour to make a similar commitment in its manifesto, but it remains to be seen if the Conservatives overcome their natural aversion to regulation as only being ‘red tape’.

Let’s hope that whatever colour of Government we get in May agrees on such a strategic authority. Otherwise it will be back to business as normal with enlightened minds shackled by collective responsibility.

It reminds me of a comment attributed to a White House official about why President George Bush was going back on a particular pledge: “He didn’t say that. He was reading what was given to him in a speech.”

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