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Groundwater polluter Shell sponsors UK Environment Agency’s Annual Conference


Because some things cannot wait, it was good to be a part of the Environment Agency’s annual conference this week. It was all top stuff – about waste, pollution and renewable energy. Lord Smith, the chairman, talked about his call for the Green New Deal to assist the UK economy, while others pressed for further and better action to combat the scourge of climate change.

One of the sponsors of the event was the oil company Shell, who hosted a session on “innovation and technology”, with vice-president Paul Snaith explaining “how business and government can share risk in the commercialisation of technology”. And as everyone was being nice, no one made too much of the fact that in recent months action by the regulator has seen Shell fined £18,000 (that was July) for polluting ground waters in Grimsby, despoilment that will cost £5m to clean up; and £10,000 (September) for diesel spills in Hampshire lakes. In terms of etiquette, it was just as well.

The fearlessness of information commissioner Richard Thomas is surely beyond question now. Robust, independent, oblivious to government pressure, he was at it again this week, challenging the cabinet secretary over secret minutes containing the legal advice that took us to war in Iraq. And so we think it highly unlikely that he will be influenced by the government’s decision, announced also this week, to hike his salary to £140,000 – a 40% pay rise. But no harm in trying.

Perhaps a better approach is that taken towards Jenny Watson, the new chair of the Electoral Commission, who might have hoped to inherit the £150,000 salary enjoyed by her predecessor Sam Younger, but has instead seen MPs whittle it down to £100,000. Ukip’s Bob Spink wants it reduced further, to £63,000. Jenny may note that MPs in general and parties facing investigation have little time for the Electoral Commission. If she didn’t know it before, she does now.

What can we say about Shami Chakrabarti. Earlier this year she fought to kill off the government’s 42-day detention plans. And now we see she is fighting for the reinstatement of Jon Gaunt, the shock-jock and Sun columnist sacked by TalkSport for calling a councillor a Nazi. Before his little difficulty, he derided our Shami as “the most dangerous woman in Britain”. But, ever helpful, she points out that he may now have some redress under the Human Rights Act. That particular piece of legislation is not to his taste, but strange things happen in a crisis. Allegiances shift; tastes change.

As the search for a new poet laureate hots up, the culture department reveals that it is “consulting widely in the poetry sector”; the bosses, the unions – everybody.

Disappointment for all who attended the Richmond upon Thames annual literature festival expecting to hear Professor AC Grayling discuss the nature of duty vs pleasure, the theme of his new book The Choice of Hercules. He didn’t show up, leaving many with the impression that pleasure had won out. In fact, the thinker’s thinker had the dates mixed up. Clever, stupid, it happens.

Finally, though many controversies plagued the Blair premiership, the claim that he sat and watched Jackie Milburn play from the Gallowgate End of Newcastle United’s stadium seemed curiously damaging. It revealed, one thought at the time, a longing to be viewed as clubbable and – as there were no seats in the Milburn era – a willingness to play fast and loose with the truth. But too late perhaps. The former prime minister emerges as a man who was wronged, for last week, when he returned to the north-east, he was staggered to receive an unsought confession from the regional newspaper, the Sunday Sun. You never said it, they admitted in a videotaped interview. It was us. “I used to get so much stick over that,” said a close to speechless Blair, whose only reaction to the news that the reporter responsible has now left the paper was a uncharacteristically terse: “Pleased to hear it.” Iraq, PFIs, “boom and bust” still stand, but on this one it wasn’t him guv. It was the Sunday Sun wot done it. Let history record.


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