I remember a meeting in early 1997 when Michael Meacher (the then shadow Environment Secretary) summed up the trials of opposition. He said, “For eighteen years, I have woken up and thought what am I going to say today. I look forward to waking up and thinking what am I going to do today.”
This week, in Liverpool, the Labour party will be doing a lot of talking. Talking about what they would do if they were in power now and talking about how they can develop a policy agenda which will help them return to government.
And that must be right. The first job of opposition is – to oppose. Any government needs a strong opposition to keep it on track.
NGOs have some things in common with opposition parties. We cannot decide new policies and laws but we can tell governments what we think they should do with their time in power. Alas, it is up to governments whether they decide to listen or not.
But unlike opposition parties, we can make the world a better place through managing our nature reserves, working with landmanagers and fishermen and by providing more people to have contact with nature.
This is not meant to be a eulogy in favour of the charity sector.
We can have sympathy and some empathy for parties when they lose power. So, we will continue to work with the Labour party as it searches for its way back to government.
I hope that the party remembers the many good things that it achieved while in government – new laws to tackle climate change and to improve the protection of our finest wildlife sites on land and at sea; more money for farmers who manage their land for wildlife and a definition of sustainable development that established the idea of living within environmental limits through a sustainable economy.
The sustainable development strategy of 2005 (topical again in the context of the current debate about the future of land use planning) was radical, but unfortunately never really respected. Too often, economic ambitions resulted in policies (such as the proposed new runway at Heathrow) which were inconsistent with environmental objectives.
One thing is certain - we will, as we do with any political party, share our best ideas for the future. We want parties to find a new policy agenda that helps create an economy that furthers rather than degrades the natural environment.