ANALYSIS: Champion of environmental issues - Nuclear energy campaigner Bernard Ingham goes head-to-head with environmentalist Charles Secrett, Friends of the Earth UK executive director

Timing is all in PR, they say. So, this week, I had a letter in The

Daily Telegraph criticising the City for its stupid political

correctness in excluding nuclear-related companies from its 'ethical

index'. Without nuclear power its operations would be on the blink. The

Guardian then identified me as 'the self conscious model of patriotic,

rural, northern English bluff common sense who spearheaded the campaign

against wind turbines in the 1990s'.

Just the sort of morning, I thought, to interview Charles Secrett,

executive director of Friends of the Earth (FoE), without whom no

environmental campaign or sustainable development commission would be


His office, in a corner of Underwood Street, off Shepherdess Walk,

sounds impeccably environmentally friendly. But the urban jungle of

London's City Road seems guaranteed to produce eco-warriors. As they

rode into reception on their bikes, I had this vision of General Secrett

dispatching them on two wheels to the ends of the earth, to save the

rainforests and all that dwell therein.

It was no flight of fancy. Secrett really is the General of


He has a pressure group strategy, tactical appreciation and the troops

who, he says, contribute 90 per cent of the FoE's £6m turnover in


He is also fluent in socio-economic NGO-speak. So what drives this

47-year-old divorcee, who uses public transport when he doesn't cycle

the 12.5 miles in from Mortlake?

After running a gardening business following university and a spell as a

residential social worker in Hammersmith, he says he was impelled 21

years ago by public duty and environmental conviction towards FoE. And

no burning ambition to earn lots of money, I add. 'Yes,' he says, 'I am

fortunate to have had middle-class advantages.'

He learned his trade on wildlife, countryside and rainforest campaigns,

and became the boss in 1993. Two years ago, The Observer ranked him as

the 36th most influential person in Britain. The British FoE is a

Secrett creation to which other branches globally look for inspiration.

So what, I asked, is the secret (oh dear) of his success?

He has 'three key rules' for effective campaigning in a democracy. The

first is good information based on 'sound argument, rational analysis

and robust thinking'. This is why, he says, you can't dismiss FoE

campaigns as wrong. My experience of wind power, with which Secrett

seems uncritically besotted, and nuclear power does not entirely support

this self-advertisement.

But I let it pass.

Having got the information, he says, they use it to create public

awareness in a way relevant to people as citizens, voters and taxpayers

or, in the marketplace, as consumers, shareholders and investors. They

then mobilise that awareness to act on the information in a transparent,

accountable and peaceful way. He might have added a fourth rule, which

is to make yourself indispensable to the media.

I couldn't resist picking up on his emphasis on 'peaceful'


So he didn't approve of Greenpeace rampaging all over the place -

latterly at the 'Star Wars' station near Harrogate? Secrett looked

pained. He wasn't into rubbishing fellow environmentalists, though he

later betrayed his distaste for 'headline-grabbing stunts' that, while

raising awareness, don't shift the argument.

Instead, he began what I thought was a dangerous attempt to

differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable illegality. He draws a

line between the four women who openly knocked seven bells out of a Hawk

aircraft in the name of peace trying to avoid the consequences of their

actions in court, and 'genuinely violent masked protesters' who are

'fundamentally anti-democratic'.

'Standards vary over time and between cultures. Different assessments

will be made,' he says.

So what have been the successes of his strategy? Top of his list came a

high level of public awareness of environmental issues. More tangibly,

he listed the end of commercial whaling, the slowdown in nuclear power

station building, protection of wildlife sites and the Montreal Protocol

against ozone-depleting chemicals.

He was clearly excited by his success over the past five years in making

democracy work for the environmental movement - mobilising support

across communities - which, he says, led to FoE drafting 14 bits of

legislation on anything from road traffic reduction to recycling.

I do not argue that the FoE isn't the bees-knees at campaigning. But I

reckon that in seeking to restructure society into the renewable energy/

conservation economy, it will have to persuade people they aren't going

to become poor or have their lifestyles wrecked. He accepts FoE's

challenge is 'to show we aren't anti-human, anti-progress,

anti-technology and anti-development'.

Nor, disarmingly, is he against nuclear power, which doesn't emit

greenhouse gases. Not, he says, if it can show it is safe, economic and

manages its waste. I harbour ambitions of recruiting him to Supporters

of Nuclear Energy. Which raises the question as to what industries such

as nuclear have to learn from FoE. 'Join us,' he laughs.

I suspect FoE and the nuclear industry have much to learn from Secrett's

enthusiasm for 'constructive engagement'.

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