GOVERNMENT ministers (and their shadow counterparts) have been turning up in and around Camden in their droves in recent weeks. It is almost too fatiguing for me to write, and for you to read, the age old line: ‘Ere, anybody would think there is an election coming up.
We know why they are here, and what’s at stake. And yet the Conservative strategy behind bringing environment minister Elizabeth Truss to Hampstead Heath on a nippy Wednesday afternoon is a little more difficult to decipher. On the face of it, yes, local parliamentary candidate Simon Marcus could be seen showing how his lobbying was bringing the big guns to the scene of the ponds dams row, one of the beating points of controversy in NW3 for the last two years. Here, as she was shown the fallen trees by the Heath and Hampstead Society, we were to see a politician who listens.
But what else were the Conservatives really going to gain from rushing Ms Truss to barricades? She knew, they knew, even before she had arrived that there was a zero point zero percent chance of her gazing across the Heath and saying: You know what, Simon? Sod the planning permission and the High Court ruling, I’m vetoing this bad boy. Right here. Right now.
She was clearly limited in how she could respond to the protesters who, with a breathless energy, are using every avenue open to them to try and halt the work from starting, and want the government to exempt the Heath from the Reservoir Act 2010 – that’s the law from which this whole saga stems. So restricted in fact was Ms Truss, it was possible to wonder why she had come along at all, when feelings on the issue are so testy and sitting on the fence has often been read, from both sides of the debate, as being no help at all.
Telling the objectors that’s ‘it’s rather late’ for further intervention, as Ms Truss went on to say, surely risks frustrating them some more, as if to say: Oh, if only you had said something earlier…
Their complaints have been loud and clear for many months.
There was a consolation, however, for anyone who was left feeling the visit had been pretty fruitless. Ms Truss liked the view across the Heath! “It is a beautiful landscape,” she said, like a kid gazing at the stars before heading off to bed to dream of pretty things. “One of the things I am very keen on is looking after landscapes.”