One swallow doesn’t make a profit

The current issue of Birds, the magazine of the RSPB, carries the following editorial about Seal Sands on the Tees, an internationally important wintering place for shelduck and migrating shore birds. It is worth reproducing in full.


“For years we have fought to save this last vital remnant of Seal Sands from reclamation for port development. The last round in this battle was about the draft County structure plan, which had zoned the whole area for development. The special panel appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment to hear objections to the plan found in our favour, concluding that the case for industrial development was weak and that there were positive reasons on nature conservation grounds against reclamation of any but a small sector of the site. However, the Secretary of State has said that he is proposing to reject his panel’s recommendation and to give priority to expansion of the port and port-related industry. If he does not change his mind (and we have submitted a further strong objection), this will permit the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority to complete their destruction of the estuary.
“It will also be the third recent occasion on which a Secretary of State has rejected the findings of an enquiry and approved the despoliation of a site of international or national importance on the grounds of regional or local economic advantage—grounds which furthermore were not proved at the enquiries in question. Both the other consents were for oil refineries —one at Cliffe on the North Kent Marshes and the other in Nigg Bay in the Cromarty Firth—and they come at a time when Britain and Europe already have excess refinery capacity.
“A public enquiry is intended to provide an arena where all information and facts for and against development of a site can be properly tested. It becomes a pointless expenditure of time and money if a Secretary of State is going to throw overboard conclusions every time they do not suit his views or, as one must inevitably suspect, when they run contrary to the political expediency of the moment.”


Would it be churlish to say to the RSPB: “We told you so”? What they are experiencing confirms yet again two major points in the case of the Socialist Party. First, that the so-called democracy under capitalism, here expressing itself as the grand-sounding “public enquiry”, is allowed to go just as far as capitalism wants it to—to attempt to mollify the working class—until it starts to conflict with industry, profits etc. Then bang! up goes the brick wall and out comes the dictator (on this occasion a Labour Party one).

Second, it illustrates that power is political, in the Government’s hands. Even a wealthy pressure-group with a full-time staff and nearly a quarter of a million members to sign petitions cannot alter the Secretary of State’s decision. If they cannot save even a mud-flat in this situation, how can the working class hope to change society without first capturing political power through Parliament?

A final comment on the RSPB. They currently run an appeal called “Save a place for birds”. Perhaps this experience will demonstrate to them that nothing can be safeguarded within the capitalist system — only by abolishing it and building a sane society. Capitalism is not even concerned with saving a place for people. What hope have birds got?

D. W. Roberts