Thursday, 17 February 2011

Question Time: The cancelled forest sell off

I haven't watched QT for years - the duplicity and complicity of politicians I can live with, but the sheer stupidity of the general public asking the questions I can't - but today I made an exception because Nigel Farage was on.

I must say, it was only the skinny blonde lady with glasses from the audience who nailed this question: she reckoned that the Lib-Cons never seriously planned to sell off the few remaining government-owned forests and that it was a 'red herring'.

The phrase I would have used is 'smokescreen'. Seeing as there is no particular commercial rationale for doing so (maybe it would have generated a profit of a few million, maybe it would have been a net cost, who knows), I would assume that they floated the idea a few weeks ago in order to distract our attention from more pressing matters of e.g. the bank bonus season.

Let's put it in perspective:

Value of forests which might have been sold off £300 million (for which the government would have received £300 million, so net cost to economy £nil, and that is a one-off cost of £nil)

Bankers' bonuses declared in past few weeks: £6,000 million (from which HM Revenue & Customs rake off about 50%, so net cost to economy £3,000 million, and that is an annually recurring cost of £3,000 million).


Curmudgeon said...

I think you do them too much credit in seeing it as conspiracy rather than cockup.

Bill Quango MP said...

Agree with Curmudgeon.
There's too many people doing too many things. time to cut back the number of reforms. Otherwise it will be a U-turn a week.

Mark Wadsworth said...

PC, BQ, can you think of a single reason why anybody would have wanted to sell off 'our forests'?

For sure, Ms C Spelman is a lobbyist for the agricultural landowners, who might have made a few quid out of some back room deal, but most people wouldn't even have been aware of how much forest the government still owns (about 2% of the UK by surface area or something).

PS, they do far more than one U-turn a week, the past nine months have been one U-turn after another, it's been more U-turns than doing anything that was in either party's manifesto, if anything they are picking up the Nulab baton and taking it to the next level.

Steven_L said...

You'd get a bit for the timber at Kielder, but not much.

I reckon it was just a half decent idea that their core voters hated.

After all, the National Trust put a paywall around some of our best heritage, the lfeties never question that!

Forests are a middle class thing, they just underestimated how much the middle classes want something for nothing - like house price appreciation I guess :)

banned said...

BBC Radio 2 had a comment spot yesterday morning running with 5 recent U turns, their commenters quickly got that up to 10.

I'm with the 'red herring' lobby; caving in to public demand to show us how they care and listen to us. It's on a par with allowing MPs a free vote on prisoners votes to appear to be tough on the EU over something that is actually fairly trivial.

JuliaM said...

That was the one they held in Barking! I meant to watch.

But I forgot, and anyway, I'm ploughing my way through season one of 'Fringe'...

Anonymous said...

Didn't someone on the HPC front page, say that the whole idea was a reward for some elite players to create 'loss making woodland' (this resource running out too apparently): to write off yet more of their tax against. Clearly, this, land owner - tax fiddle mob, not as powerful as 10,000 Tory Nimby's though.Te He


Mark Wadsworth said...

SL, if you want to annoy "middle class" people there are far better ways of doing it.

B, ta for back up.

JM, that's probably a far better use of your time.

MikeW, as far as I can see, forestry is almost completely tax exempt (no income tax, CGT or IHT, although it appears to be VAT-able) BUT the flipside (as far as I can make out) is that there is no tax relief for losses incurred.

Tufty said...

I'm also with the red herring lobby. Selling off forests always seemed too unimportant to be financially motivated. Announce something trivial but contentious then bow to the inevitable outrage. So easy to do.

chefdave said...

The public were quite good this week; they pretty much applauded everyone of Farage's points. There must be a correlation between audience IQ and their distance from the Labour heartlands ;)

Imo this was just a cock-up, they're not smart enough to orchestrate a PR stunt like this. According to a reputable HPC poster they've been selling off gov't land on the sly (to their mates, at BVM) for years. They could have continued this policy but instead decided to be up front with us, in other words it's their Brown Bottom moment.

They won't make this mistake again.

Anonymous said...

Must say I'm with the cock-up theory on this one. Successive governments have tried to get the Forestry Commission, and every time been thwarted by cries of "they're selling off our forests".

BTW your suggestion that bank bonuses "cost the economy" £3 billion is wrong. The bankers are as much a part of the economy as the foresters who would have bought the forests.

Mark Wadsworth said...

T, CD, AC, ta, it looks like the majority think it was cock-up. Perhaps you're right (although I doubt it).

AC, people who receive money simply for being in a state-protected privileged position are taking that money out of the economy, full stop. They are as much part of the economy as highwaymen. See my post of half an hour ago for more examples.