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Ministers bark up wrong tree after ash cash was slashed

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Ash trees across Britain are now infected with the Chalara fraxinea fungus that causes a deadly "dieback" disease.
Issue 2329
Ministers bark up wrong tree after ash cash was slashed

Ash trees across Britain are now infected with the Chalara fraxinea fungus that causes a deadly “dieback” disease.

But don’t panic—the government has responded by shutting the borders to keep out any more foreign trees.

This would never have tackled the root of the problem, since windblown spores aren’t sentimental about national borders in the way Tory politicians are.

And by now it’s nothing more than something to keep the government’s “Cobra” committee busy. The saps are stumped about what to do.

Government scientists were already coming out of the woodwork to say it was too late for quarantine when lobbied by growers in 2009.

Labour had already started taken the axe to those scientists’ budget, and it continued to do so the following year.

In all, biosecurity funding fell by 60 percent from 2004 to 2010. Yet they’d been warned about the imminent dieback as early as 2007.

Five years later, horticulturalists are saying that there’s no longer any point even cutting down mature infected trees. Not that they’d have any vested interest in protecting their stock.

But with hundreds of cases branching out everywhere from Essex to Wales and Scotland, it seems keeping out European saplings wooden help.

The papers have been full of handwringing about the spiritual loss to the English countryside—the tree-free wastelands that would await Denmark and Poland being of no concern.

But there are new strains of ash tree resistant to the fungus. These include hybrids with Japanese species, and the trees that survived in the parts of Europe already ravaged by the disease.

These could repair the devastation—if cash-strapped boffins can get them past the government’s import ban.

Swinging the axe

Labour and Tory ministers have both slashed funding into tree health research. Labour environment secretary David Miliband cut biosecurity spending by 20 percent in 2007 alone. His successor, Hilary Benn, passed more cuts—even after growers’ warnings about the dieback.

Spending has fallen even faster since the Tories took over, despite a promise to ringfence science spending. Defra research fell 17.4 percent under Tory minister Caroline Spelman.

Safe haven for Bush

Whatever happened to Obama’s predecessor, the world’s number one terrorist George Bush? The man who presided over the US’s financial crash gave a £2,500 a head talk to bankers in the Cayman Islands tax haven last week.

Other speakers included convicted fraudster Richard Branson. But journalists were strictly “forbidden” from reporting on what Bush said.

Romney’s damp squibs

Poor old Mitt Romney. The right wing millionaire loser was so sure he’d be the next US president, he planned an eight minute £16,000 firework spectacular. It all had to be packed up and sent back.

He’s also losing his US secret service protection and the exciting codename—“Javelin”—that came with it.

Will millionaires be driven underground?

Multimillionaire David Graham plans to triple the size of his Knightsbridge mansion with a massive underground complex.

It’s set to feature a ballroom, swimming pool and servants’ quarters—and four storey car lift to the garage.

Meanwhile Poole hospital boss Chris Bown is leading a consortium to drive down NHS workers’ pay. But he’s managed to find £500,000 for a new ward for private patients.

The Cornelia Suite has six spacious single rooms with en suite bathrooms, TV and Wi-Fi—and “some of the best views in town”.

Top Tory gets paid for lobbying herself

Imagine being paid both by a lobby group and by the government department it was set up to lobby. That’s the situation of Philippa Stroud, the longest serving adviser to Iain Duncan Smith.

As well as working for Duncan Smith’s department, she gets a wage as co-chair of the right wing Centre for Social Justice think-tank. It was set up in 2004—by none other than Iain Duncan Smith.

Dorries keeps it in the family

Tory MP Nadine Dorries may have jetted off to the jungle, but she can’t be accused of not looking out for her three daughters. She hired Jennifer, 23, as a senior secretary months ago. But she still hasn’t declared it on the MPs’ register of interests.

Philippa, 27, previously held a similar role on the equivalent of £35,000 a year before she found a job with a law firm. Cassie, 20, is busy running her mum’s Twitter account.

Know your enemy: Justin Portal Welby

Welby has been tipped as the future Archbishop of Canterbury. The Old Etonian was an oil boss. Colleagues have since been arrested for corruption.

Switching to the clergy he rocketed through the ranks in just 20 years. He opposes gay marriage.

His father made his fortune selling whisky in Prohibition era US. He went legit when he switched to importing communion wine.

Who wants to vote for £100k top coppers?

In a shock development, polls suggest few people can be bothered voting for new top cops this week. The public appears unimpressed with the candidates’ abilities to kettle protests, stop and search black people, or walk away unpunished from deaths in custody.

It’s a shame, because a £100,000 salary awaits some of the winners. One poll put turnout at 15 percent. But home secretary Theresa May promises she’ll set no minimum turnout.


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