Won't make a habit of this, but posting text of an article as it's paywall only (Times). A piece by Simon Barnes reclaiming the importance of humanity and nature in the face of "UK plc" etc.



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The Times (London)

March 24, 2012 Saturday

Edition 1;

National Edition
This Ozzy (Osborne) has no song in his soul;
Wild Notebook

BYLINE: Simon Barnes

SECTION: FEATURES; Pg. 22

LENGTH: 796 words


Have you ever wanted to tap a politician on the shoulder and say: "Excuse me old thing, but this is a real country you are governing, and it's full of real people who don't share your obsession with politics and power. We just want a decent life."

No doubt the politician would merely snort: "I know the sort of people you mean. The sort of people who don't make any trouble. The sort of people not worth taking trouble for, in other words. Now be off with you, I have an important meeting with important people. It's important people who matter, after all. Important people like - well, me ..." Which brings us to this chap George Osborne. Chancellor, I believe. Been in the news for some reason this week. Last autumn, he criticised the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, which are European regulations for internationally important sites for wildlife. To put that another way, they are sites for which Britain has a global responsibility.

Mr Osborne described them in his Autumn Budget statement - not a throwaway remark, then - as "a ridiculous cost on British business". Absurd things like newts and voles and bats and barn owls getting in the way of important things like money and power: it's not to be thought of. It's a view that you find wherever important people sit down to discuss important things.

"See what I mean, 007? Just the sort of mare's nest these old women's societies are always stirring up. People start preserving something - churches, old houses, decaying pictures, birds - and there's always a hullabaloo of some sort. The trouble is these sort of people get really worked up about their damned birds or whatever it is ... So I'm supposed to do what? Send a submarine to the island? For what? To find out what's happened to a covey of pink storks."

M's words at the beginning of Dr No: echoed by Ozzy Osborne in his words about the habitats directive and no doubt echoed on a daily basis by important people across the country.

There are two reasons why Ozzy is wrong. The first is that the directive in question does not operate at a cost to British business. That is the conclusion the Government itself has just reached. Defra's review of the habitat regulations showed that the only problems with the directive were to do with attitude and rhetoric.

Environmental safeguards, it concluded, do not place a brake on economic development. In fact, there are many examples of wildlife contributing to prosperity: to take a tiny example, my local pub would close if they didn't get so many clients coming to Suffolk for the famous RSPB reserve at Minsmere.

Wildlife and business are not forever in opposition. It is not the case that one is rooted in the past and the other in the future: or if it is, it's the other way round from the way most important people think. Opposition to regulations on wildlife is an irrational piece of political posturing designed to make you look like an important person.

And what if it was a cost? What if protecting wildlife really was a burden on business? Shouldn't that be a burden that business is happy to bear? After all Britain is a country, not a business park. I don't see Britain as just a place for making money in; do you?

The problem with important people is that they think about work too much. Therefore, they only see Britain as a workplace. If Britain is not doing all kinds of things so that people can make money, then it is failing. Which is all fair enough in its way: but we unimportant people don't see that as the whole story.

Britain is also a place to play in. A place to take holidays, walk in the countryside, sit in the pub garden, swim in the sea, walk to work through the park, take a weekend away from the city. If you wish to take a reductive view, you could say that the wilder parts of Britain were essential to keep the workforce functioning.

I don't suppose important people talk about souls very often. I don't suppose they discuss the things we need for the good of our souls, or their duty to safeguard the soul of Britain. Perhaps important people only think of souls in terms of buying and selling.

But look here: what a week. I bet your soul was stirred, same as mine was. Spring arriving like an express train. Blossom exploding on to trees. Primroses almost rudely thrusting themselves into being. Blackbirds singing with the glorious sweetness they specialise in; song thrush adding his own contribution, singing each song twice over, lest you think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture.

It's been a week of careless rapture - a week that's been good for our souls: one that reminds us that we've all got one, and so does the country we live in. Work and money are all very fine and dandy, but we need more. And business can be a ridiculous cost on British souls.