May 16: Litter ‘ground war’ must be won

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WILLIAM Blake would be aghast – “England’s green and pleasant land”, immortalised in his evocative poem and anthem Jerusalem, is no more when set in the context of the amount of litter and rubbish blighting Britain because of a selfish minority’s cavalier attitude.

Not only has such disrespect been allowed to become endemic, largely because existing laws on litter have no deterrent effect, but the total cost of cleaning up communities and roads is now estimated to cost £1bn a year – money which Britain simply cannot afford to throw away at a time of spending restraint.

However this staggering sum would be even more prohibitive if it was not for those public-spirited individuals and community groups like Litter-Free Guiseley who have made it their civic duty to clear up the mess left by others; they represent the best of society and their actions should be applauded. Their selflessness is one reason why this newspaper, and sister publications, is launching a new campaign – Clean Up Yorkshire – with the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

If more people can be persuaded to lead by example and spare some time to pick up discarded litter when they walk to the shops, or venture out into the countryside, such collective action – the aggregation of marginal gains – can make a difference and perhaps force the irresponsible to think twice about their own conduct. However this “ground war”, a phrase familiar to those politicians who fought last week’s elections, will not be won without legislative action that gives street wardens greater powers to impose spot fines on miscreants – and which sees individual car owners held responsible for any food wrappers, drinks bottles and other waste discarded from their vehicle. After all, enforcement is critical to ensuring the good deeds of model citizens do not to go to waste during Yorkshire’s very own spring clean.

Labour’s dilemma: Mary Creagh v Mrs Ed Balls

IT SPEAKS volumes about the current state of the Labour Party that Chuka Umunna’s abrupt withdrawal from the race to succeed Ed Miliband prompted one backbencher to urge Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis to reconsider his decision not to stand. Bassetlaw MP John Mann mischievously tweeted: “Make it possible for him to do fatherhood and leadership and move party HQ to Yorkshire.”

However the Shadow Business Secretary’s absence will not detract from the contest now underway, not least the rivalry between Yvette Cooper and Mary Creagh who represent neighbouring constituencies in West Yorkshire. These Shadow Cabinet colleagues are both vying to become the first female leader of a major Westminster party since Margaret Thatcher’s era.

Their contrasting approach also reveal the fault lines at the heart of the party following Mr Miliband’s defeat. Presumably out of loyalty to her husband Ed Balls, the deficit-denying Ms Cooper maintains that the last Labour government did not overspend, a position at odds with Ms Creagh who say she was persuaded to stand by this eve-of-election email from a small business owner which read: “If your lot do win today, please don’t annihilate the private sector and economy.”

It is a key point. The first task facing the next Labour leader will be to broaden the party’s support base – and this will not happen without a credible economic policy which places a premium on aspiration. On this basis, Ms Creagh has made the more convincing start but there are still four months to go and every candidate still has much to prove.

Time to strike out: rail action vindicates Ministers

PERHAPS the most predicable event, at the end of a momentous week in politics, was the RMT’s decision to time a strike so that it causes maximum disruption to the travel plans of many over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

The union’s leaders remain out of touch with reality – the offer on the table from Network Rail would have seen 16,000 staff given an extra £500 and pay increases for the next three years linked to the RPI inflation rate. This deal is also at odds with the real world experience of many in the private sector.

Even though the number of members endorsing this action meets the new turnout threshold proposed by the Government, this should not preclude Ministers from tabling the necessary legislation in the Queen’s Speech – the country cannot afford to be held to ransom by such unreasonable demands. As such, the only consolation 
is that Ed Miliband is not in 10 Downing Street signing off blank cheques to the RMT and its cohorts.