So Martin Kettle gets all gooey eued at the way that the Daily Mail bounced the government into action.
The Daily Mail did not invent the issue of plastic bag pollution. Paul Dacre\’s newspaper is a Johnny-come-lately to a long-established environmental cause. It is 20 years since Labour\’s Chris Smith first raised the issue in the House of Commons and six since Ireland and Bangladesh caught the world\’s attention by slapping a tax on them. You can find hundreds of speeches by ministers saying something must be done. But until the Mail\’s campaign ministers were still – there is no other word for it – dithering.
Once the Mail went into action the outcome was settled. Ten pages on Wednesday, seven more on Thursday, another four on Friday and the job was done. The Banish the Bags campaign was well planned, well focused, well judged, well timed and was executed on a scale and with a ruthlessness that would have impressed Bismarck. M&S was lined up in advance to create a second-day wave with its 5p-per-bag charge announcement. Even Prince Harry could not shove the campaign off the front page yesterday, as Gordon Brown, who now recycles his garden waste instead of his policy announcements, pledged that the government would "step in and act".
So why were Ministers dithering?
Waste advisors to the Government have today warned against a tax on plastic bags on the basis that it could have a detrimental effect on the environment.
Experts have suggested that a ban or levy on plastic bags would actually lead to much greater volumes of plastic being used because people would need more bin liners and rubbish sacks.
Research by the Government-funded Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that a levy on plastic bags in Ireland only made matters worse.
WRAP believes that advocates of a tax, such as the 33 London boroughs, have underestimated how many plastic bags are used currently to put out recycling or as substitutes for plastic bin bags.
A levy on plastic would also be likely to mean a switch towards paper which uses more energy in production and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, when they degrade in landfill, according to WRAP.
Liz Goodwin, WRAP’s chief executive, warned: “You have to decide which problem you are trying to deal with, litter or the volume of plastic used. We have got to remember that taxes and levies can have perverse effects – such as making people use more plastic rather than less.
“Our focus should be on reducing environmental impacts of the bags by making them lighter or out of recycled content.”
Industry sources say that Ireland’s levy on plastic bags led to five times more plastic being used.
WRAP doubts this estimate but says it calculates that a ban or a levy would still lead to more plastic being used than at present because one form of bag would be substituted by another.
So let us tiptoe through the timeline.
Greenies identify a problem, Politicians go and get some experts together and ask them to work it out: is it really a problem and if so, is the proposed solution one that will work?
Experts come back and say, well, yes, there is indeed a problem but the proposed solution will just make it worse. So the current situation is perhaps the best we can hope for. Ministers thus do nothing until the Daily Mail leaps on the bandwagon.
Ministers now act and make things worse.
And Kettle approves of this idiocy?