Spelman scapegoated for forest sell-off U-turn

The Mole: It's unfair to blame Spelman - it was a mad idea that should have been nipped in the bud weeks ago

Column LAST UPDATED AT 12:00 ON Thu 17 Feb 2011

Now that David Cameron has seen the light and decided to scrap the loopy policy of flogging off England's forests, it looks as if Caroline Spelman is being made the scapegoat.

The briefers are targeting the Environment Secretary in the whispering corridors of Westminster before tomorrow's official announcement of a U-turn is made. "Naïve", "inexperienced" and "never thought it through" are some of the things being said about Spelman behind her back.

This is hardly fair. Yes, she glibly accepted the advice of her own team to flog off the forests when all ministers were asked at the end of last year to come up with ideas for making cuts to reduce the public spending deficit.

But Cameron should have nipped this in the bud weeks ago. The fact that the Sunday Telegraph ­ house journal of the Tory shires ­ felt obliged to launch an anti-government campaign to 'save our forests' should have been warning enough to halt the consultation process in its tracks.

How did a Conservative-led coalition get itself into a position where it appeared to be attacking its own most loyal supporters?

Sunday Telegraph columnist Matthew D¹Ancona, speaking on Radio 4's Today programme this morning, reckons Cameron is blaming the lack of preparation for the policy for its failure to win the hearts and minds of a generous public - a necessity the PM calls 'pitch rolling', the art of preparing a cricket pitch with the heavy roller before sending the lads out to bat.

The Mole begs to differ. The real lesson of the forestry fiasco is that Cameron and his Downing Street aides lack the experience, born of commonsense, to weed out daft policies like this before they are made public.

Margaret Thatcher lost party support after neglecting her own base, particularly the legions of loyal Conservative councillors and party workers in the sticks who were too small to be worth indulging by the time she was coming up for her 10th anniversary in power. Cameron is in danger of losing his base far more quickly. As Colin Brown wrote for The First Post earlier this month, the True Blue Tories are feeling forgotten by this government.

It's worth remembering the plan to flog off our beloved forests took root under "the man with the common touch", Cameron's former spin doctor, Andy Coulson.

His replacement, Craig Oliver, needs to call a hasty review of policy to see what other bright ideas night force Cameron into a similarly embarrassing U-turn.

In the Mole's view, Olive should start by persuading the PM to quietly drop all future references to The Big Society before it begins to make him look as foolish as John Major over Back to Basics.

Cameron's policy and strategy team need to get their act together. Otherwise the PM will quickly realise there's more street-wise commonsense to be had from Larry the Downing Street cat. ·