Fyson on ... how Miliband is preparing the country for the day he takes over as leader of the Labour Party

News that David Miliband has ruled himself out of the running to lead the Labour Party has reduced the likelihood of a rational environmental perspective at the highest level of government.

Chancellor Gordon Brown is bound to be suspicious of intervention in economic processes for the sake of planned places.

Nevertheless, the Brown team, which Miliband predicts will provide "a chorus of voices, not just the words of one leader", will understand that economic development needs a high-quality context to compete on the world stage. There is a strong environmental case for producing energy without generating carbon and the national economic interest lies in secure energy sources. Together with overarching global climate concerns, these issues are bound to point the next regime towards a radical new agenda for change, whoever is in charge.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the context of the marine and coastal environments that have recently sprung to prominence. Flood control, the management of coastal erosion and the prosperity of coastal settlements have all made the headlines. Significant sea level and temperature rises within a century seem ever more probable.

Last month DEFRA, under Miliband's leadership, invited comment on a marine white paper. Its proposals involve establishing marine protection areas, a new national marine management organisation and a new system of strategic marine planning.

To sceptics, this is not the wholehearted commitment to conservation that was hoped for. While protection of ecosystems and biodiversity will be well covered in selected areas, the big fishing interests seem unlikely to be challenged elsewhere. One of the main purposes is clearly to speed approval of offshore development proposals related to energy production - surely no bad thing.

As environment secretary, Miliband has shown that he is ready to balance development and environmental priorities sensibly. He ought to be a leading member of Brown's team. Meanwhile, we have to wait for his particular brand of intelligent common sense to lead Labour politics, but his chance should come.

In fact, it may come sooner than most commentators seem to expect. In a repetition of Tony Blair's ill-advised early anticipation of retirement from the premiership, Brown has reportedly said that he will fight just one election before handing over. So in two or three years' time there is every possibility of another contest, the winner of which will either lead Labour in opposition or take over from another lame duck prime minister.

Anthony Fyson is a freelance writer on planning issues.


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