It was perhaps inevitable, but the way that Alistair Darling has completely ignored the opportunity to produce a pre budget report with any significant environmental measures is shocking. In particular, his allocation of an immediate £700m to spend on roads confirms what we knew about him when he was transport secretary: that he had no interest in developing the railways or greener methods of transport, and was only keen to pander to the motoring lobby. His only sop to the railways is to speed up the introduction of 200 new carriages, which were going to be bought anyway and which may well not be able to be produced any more quickly due to capacity constraints at Derby. Buying foreign coaches would hardly stimulate the economy.
I never shared the enthusiasm for Darling shown by sections of the rail industry. He was put in there to keep things quiet after the disaster of Byers and did as he was told, managing to keep rail out of the headlines, and maintaining its existing structure which guaranteed that many millions of subsidy were wasted. Now rather than dusting off light rail schemes, bringing forward infrastructure schemes and announcing studies into electrification or even a high speed line, he has focussed his report on expanding motorways. But as I said at the beginning, it is nothing more than we all expected.
The wider concern is that the failure to adopt a green agenda for this report shows that the New Labour has learnt nothing from this crisis. In stimulating the economy, they should have focussed on sustainable economic development, trying to ensure that the whole mad borrowing and spending binge does not start again. In a world of limited resources, surely this crisis should have taught politicians that capitalism will eventually burn itself out without strict regulation and an emphasis on sustainable products.
In any case, economic growth may not be achievable. He has no more idea than you or me whether economic growth will return by the end of next year, yet that is what he has promised in his statement. So why not come clean and say, perhaps we cannot go back to a world in which economic growth is the driving force behind all our policies and that perhaps redistribution and spending on sustainable projects has to be the priority. I know that is not an easy platform on which to get re-elected, but someone has to start saying it soon.