Friday, 7 March 2008

Meeting Gordon Brown

We were invited, along with 18 other organisations, to meet Gordon Brown to discuss our views on climate change.

We were a mixed bunch – Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, WWF, RSPB, Oxfam, the Woodland Trust and National Trust among others, so we all came with a different agenda. We agreed fairly quickly that Climate Change was the over-arching issue, but everyone wanted to include their own take on it. Many wanted to take a very strategic line and challenge the Government on its lack of coherence and sense of urgency on tackling climate change, so we agreed to start off with that, and that the WI should put forward the individual’s point of view. Someone said the WI represented “reality” which was more compelling than strategy. We also agreed to include Europe, coal power stations and air travel as well as the international scene. The wildlife organisations wanted to include adaptation. Quite an agenda!

After we had been through the security post, the famous door was already open across the street. We had to leave our mobile phones in a rack of pigeon holes in the hall. I was terrified of forgetting it. The place was like the Tardis. From the small entrance hall it opened out into large lobbies and reception rooms until we reached “the staircase” with its photos of past Prime Ministers arranged in double ranks all the way up. We were on the last flight before I recognised any of them. At the very top, in solitary state was Tony Blair’s. I wonder where they will go in the future – there only seems room for Gordon in double rank with Tony and then it will be full.

We met in the state dining room, not the cabinet room which was a bit disappointing. The tables, fitted together like any WI office set up, had inlaid marquetry patterns round the edges. I was pleased to see the water was served in jugs (silver) rather than bottled. Other government departments serve House of Commons bottled water – not good for their carbon footprints.

Our meeting went almost to plan, although some were disappointed. I was able to tell Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn that our members (and the public in general) accepted the need to take action on climate change now rather than later, but that we needed accurate information on what actions worked and I made clear that there were real barriers which hindered taking action. We wanted the government to remove these barriers and give clear leadership that they were taking climate change seriously, and that building coal power stations and expanding airports did not give this leadership.

I remembered to collect my mobile phone on the way out!

Fay Mansell

NFWI Chair

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