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    Government backpedal over forest sell-off


    by ODN


    A Government which is fast acquiring a reputation for u-turns may have just executed one of the quickest policy climbdowns in British political history.

    Just 21 days elapsed between Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman's announcement on January 27 that she was planning to sell off England's publicly-owned forests to Thursday's less-trumpeted admission that the scheme is being ditched.

    Ms Spelman fell foul of a furious backlash that united Tory backbenchers, environmentalists, ramblers, mountaineers, actresses, pop stars, more than half a million petition signers and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    Even David Cameron admitted at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday that he was not happy with the idea, effectively signing its death warrant. His very public disavowal has got Westminster tongues wagging over the security of Ms Spelman's position, but has also raised questions over the Prime Minister's grip on his frontbench team.

    Having come into power promising to allow Cabinet ministers a freer rein to develop policy on their own initiative, Mr Cameron is now thought to be regretting the sometimes embarrassing consequences of their inventiveness. The expected appointment of Andrew Cooper as Number 10 director of strategy is understood to be designed to put an end to a string of mishaps.

    In nine months in power, ministers have stepped back on proposals including withdrawing, funding from a children's free book scheme, scrapping school sports partnerships and mandatory jail terms for anyone carrying a knife.

    Ministers have always hated backing down on policies, no matter how unpopular, because of the impression it gives of indecision or even spinelessness, and the actual word "U-turn" rarely passes their lips.