Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

In the Daily Telegraph Irwin Stelzer argues that David Cameron's plan to cut ministerial salaries will not lead to a lack of high-quality candidates.

If anyone believes such a move would so reduce the number of members as to leave ministerial posts unpersoned, he has never smelled the leather of a red box, or spent time in the back of a government-provided car.

The Guardian's Tom Clark calls on Gordon Brown to make his philosophy comprehensible to the electorate.

Binding it together . . . is a simple enough two-part programme attempt to run a market economy with ruthless efficiency; then funnel as much of the proceeds as feasible to the very poor. Together with the strategic conviction that the state is vital in both parts, that is Brownism in a nutshell.

Salon's Mike Madden explores why Senate Democrats have kowtowed to the right on health care.

[The New Mexico senator Jeff] Bingaman may be the prime example of the way some Senate Democrats seem to have approached the health-care debate this summer: count votes first, figure out what should be in the bill later. And while you're counting, take the most pessimistic view possible.

Daniel Finkelstein argues in the Times that the debate pitting the US and UK health systems against each other ignores the funding crisis that both models face.

The only meeting point is that we face a common crisis. Available treatments now outstrip our ability (never mind our willingness) to pay for them. In the US this is experienced as a crisis of cost, with health inflation rampant. In the UK it is experienced as a crisis of provision, with the State refusing to finance life-saving procedures.

Channel 4 News's Faisal Islam argues that the Bank of England's quantitative easing programme means that, pace David Cameron, there is no chance of the UK defaulting on its debt.

Remarkably we are heading towards £200bn worth of government debt being bought by the Bank of England. So what is the total issuance of UK gilts 2009-2010? £220bn.

So Cameron should not be worrying about us going bankrupt any time soon. We have a ready buyer for our government debt right now.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.