Green Alliance

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The 'big tent'

Matthews writes[1]:

En route to their crushing general election victory in 2001 the Prime Minister and his colleagues found time for a private working breakfast with some of the big movers and shakers in UK corporate capitalism - Glaxo Smith Kline, HSBC, Unilever, Tesco, Royal Bank of Scotland, Centrica and many others - 'to reduce the risk of rifts with business in the coming campaign.'[1] A few days earlier two other major players in the British economy, Shell UK and BP, announced their greatest ever profits, £9bn and £9.8bn respectively.[2] This was followed by curious press reports that both Shell and BP had hired ex-MI6 staff and a former German intelligence agent to infiltrate Greenpeace[3] and that Tesco had asked MI5 to investigate the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. In an obscure spat about salmon farming Tesco believed - apparently - that the RSPB had been inftltrated by 'foreign agents' who were: 'posing a threat to the economic well being of British companies.'[4]
At a time when the offices of Glaxo Smith Kline are prone to attack by animal rights activists such jitteriness is perhaps understandable. But these threats - if they really existed - were hardly onerous. At the end of the day the upper levels of management were not disturbed. When the much derided list of 'People's Peers' was proclaimed on April 26 Sir John Browne, Chief Executive of BP, was one of the unsurprising beneficiaries.[5]
The corporations referred to above are all members or supporters of Green Alliance, arguably the most influential and well connected pressure group in Britain [6]
Immediately after the 1997 general election Robin Cook helped provide Foreign Office funding for the Green Globe Task Force: 'to help Government achieve international objectives for sustainable development.'
The Green Globe Task Force shares an office with Green Alliance in Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1. The Green Business Evening at the 1998 Labour Party Conference was funded, somewhat alarmingly given their extensive road building interests, by Tarmac, a major Green Alliance supporter. The government has an Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment. It is chaired by Chris Fay, Chair of Shell UK.[7] The Kensington Tesco was the preferred location when the PM launched his 1999 'Annual Report'. In October 2000 Blair gave the major keynote speech to a Conference on the Environment jointly hosted by the CBI and Green Alliance.[8] Finally, the rumour post election that Nick Butler of BP would help the second Blair government 'radically change public services', confirms the influence that Green Alliance supporters have at the highest level.[9]

Green Alliance launched

Matthews notes of the launch of the alliance:[1]

[...]Green Alliance was launched in July 1978, just after the Hammersmith and Fulham events, 'to raise the profile of the environment in mainstream politics',[10] by Lord Beaumont and Richard Holme, both major figures in the Liberal Party, and Maurice Ash, son-in-law of Leonard Elmhurst, trustee of Dartington Hall and a senior figure in the Town and Country Planning Association.[11] The subsequent, unpublicised, development of the organisation has been strikingly similar to that of both the Social Democratic Party (SDP), of which Michael Young was a founder member,[12] and the 'New Labour' project. In 1982 Tom Burke, an SDP parliamentary candidate and policy advisor to SDP founder member David Owen, became Director of Green Alliance. Burke was also active in the British American Project for a Successor Generation (BAP), the latest project seeking to integrate the Anglo-American political and economic elites. BAP funding came from, among others, Rio Tinto Zinc,[13] whose Chair from 1995 to 1998 was Richard Holme, and who today employ Burke as a Policy Advisor. Both Burke and Ho]me remain members of Green Alliance. In 1991 Tony Flower, another colleague of Michael Young, and, like him, (and Burke) active in the SDP, was appointed Director of Development. Currently, following registration as a limited company in 1995, the organisation is Chaired by Andrew Purkis (who is also Chief Executive of the Diana, Princess of Wales Fund, one of several Green Alliance figures connected to the Royal Family [14]), and includes on its board Burke and a number of quango members. Its funding and support comes from BP, Glaxo, Lever Brothers, Shell, the BBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Tarmac, Sainsburys, Tesco, the privatised utilities, the DETR, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Prince's Trust.

A powerful corporate lobby

According to Matthews:[1]

[...]The actual impact of Green Alliance during the Blair years to date is hard to gauge. Certainly the concerns expressed by most people in the UK about the environment hardly figure in the organisation's publicity, publications and conferences. The abysmal state of public transport (fares up to eight times higher than other EU nations, few staff, poor wages, little investment); excessive fuel prices; the need - apparently - for enormous car parking facilities around shopping centres' supermarkets;[15] and the continuation of suburban sprawl, are not matters that appear to galvanise Green Alliance into making pronounce¬ments that either reach the public domain or inform debate. Some members, notably Lord Melchett (over GM crops) and Jonathan Porritt (re: New Labour environmental credentials generally[16]), have expressed doubts.
But whatever its initial rationale and whatever the personal views and opinions of some of its individual members, Green Alliance looks like an enormously powerful corporate lobby heavily connected to the political forces that have reshaped the globe since the late 1970s. It was typical that when the new Blair government announced big changes to the remaining public services in the UK, support for this immediately came from Tony Colman MP (and Green Alliance) who said:
'as a private sector person you are more results orientated and more achievement orientated than the public sector.'[17]
In such a world the chance of any real environmental improve¬ment seems slim. The ability of the establishment to take forward a neo-Thatcherite agenda dressed in centre or left of centre clothing is surely one of the characteristic features of Blair's Britain.[18]





  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Simon Matthews 'Pissing in or pissing out? The 'big tent' of Green Alliance', Lobster, No 42., Winter 2001/2, p3-7.
  2. About our people (accessed 1 September 2010)
  3. Battle of Ideas 2007 festivalbiography (Accessed: 3 September 2007)
  4. About our board members
  5. About our board members (accessed 1 September 2010.
  1. ^ The Times 16 February 2001.
  2. ^ The Sunday Times 11 February 2001. Tesco also announced record profits (£'lbn - The Daily Telegraph 10 April 2001) due mainly to their huge expansion in eastern Europe post 1990. Blair and Brown have so far rejected the idea of any windfall tax.
  3. ^ The Sunday Times 17 June 2001.
  4. ^ The Sunday Times 11 and 18 March 2001. The RSPB do indeed hold the radical view that large areas of the UK should revert to being a wilderness. See The Observer 29 July 2001.
  5. ^ Browne is not the first BP figure to be so honoured. David Simon (BP 1961, Rio Tinto Zinc/Bank of England 1995, CBI, European Business Round Table etc, a career prome not untypical of many Green Alliance figures) became Lord Simon of Highbury in 1997 and served in the Blair government 1997/1998.
  6. ^ The issue of conflict of interest with so many politicians, quango heads and industrialists all in the same lobby group also should be considered.
  7. ^ Fay joined Shell in 1970 having a major career with them in Nigeria, Malaysia, Turkey as well as a role with the CBI.
  8. ^ 24 October 2000 - and available on the Green Alliance website.
  9. ^ The Sunday Telegraph 3 June 2001. Butler is a friend of Peter Mandelson and a member of the British American Project for the Successor Generation (which has now becomejust the British American Project. some of the detail in this article should be cross referenced with previousresearch in Lobster, notably Tom Easton, Who were they travelling with?, From Lobster 31, Review of 'SDP: The Birth, Life and Death of the Social Democratic Party'Ivor Crewe and Anthony King, Oxford University Press, 1995, £25; 'The British American Project for the Successor Generation' (no. 33); and 'Liddle and Lobbygatre' (no. 36) and Gregory Palast, 'Systematic Corruption, Systematic solutions' (no. 38).
  10. ^ The 1998 Green Alliance Annual Report says they celebrated their twentieth anniversary in July 1998. 1be Encyclopaedia of British and Irish Political organisations, though, refers to them being 'conceived as a political party'. Curiously the Irish Green Party began life using the name Green Alliance whilst the sister party of the Liberal Democrats in Ulster is the Alliance Party. It seems possible that the motive of those launching Green Alliance, at the time, was mainly political rather than the production of another pressure group.
  11. ^ Perhaps the Liberals saw the SLA votes across London as something they could harness, with Ash feeling this was a trend (like Michael Young and consumerism in the '60s) that should be encouraged. Jonathan Porritt maintains (7 May 2001) that there was no connection between Save London Alliance and Green Alliance - despite himself and Paul Ekins having been members of both.
  12. ^ Young rejoined the Labour Party in 1991.
  13. ^ The extent to which Rio Tinto linc crop up in connection with these matters reminds me that they can also be found in Tory MP, the classic Left Book Club account of who funded the British right in the '20s and '30s.
  14. ^ Note that Simon Lewis - Buckingham Palace PR chief - is ex-SDP, ex-British Gas etc. A number of senior Anglican clergy also feature in the movement.
  15. ^ See Green World no. 30, pp. 10/11, 'Can New Labour Go Green?'
  16. ^ The Daily Telegraph 25 June 2001
  17. ^ The Sunday Times 3 June 2001