Challenges for the new Sun editor

What's in Dominic Mohan's in-tray

As had been widely anticipated, News International today named Dominic Mohan as the new editor of the Sun. Mohan, currently the paper's deputy editor, will replace Rebekah Brooks (formerly Wade), who will shortly take up her new position as chief executive of News International.

One of the central challenges for Mohan will be to establish the paper's political line ahead of the general election. As I've previously noted, the Sun is now almost certain to defect to the Conservatives at the next election. The paper's support for the Tories in the European election and their endorsement of Boris Johnson last year suggests we won't be seeing red smoke emerge from the Sun's Wapping HQ again.

Mohan is not known as a political animal but if Rupert Murdoch (and it will be him) gives the nod to David Cameron, it may be up to Mohan to determine whether the Sun attacks Cameron from the right (on immigration, tax and crime) or evolves into a more liberal creature.

On the business level, now Murdoch has declared that he intends to charge for all his news websites by next summer, Mohan will be responsible for providing the celebrity scoops that the News Corp head believes users will pay for.

Murdoch's UK newspaper empire is more dependent than ever on the Sun for profits, with both the Times and the Sunday Times losing millions in advertising revenue.

The Sun's circulation decline (down 0.4 per cent year-on-year) has been mild compared to some, but this has been achieved in part through an aggressive price war (in many areas the paper retails at just 20p) that may prove unsustainable.

Mohan can take comfort in the support of a proprietor who is committed to rescuing the printed press for the 21st century and who is redirecting resources to his core assets.

The imminent closure of the London Paper and the sale of the neoconservative magazine the Weekly Standard demonstrate that Murdoch is prepared to act ruthlessly to protect his most renowned titles. It will now be up to Mohan to prove that such faith has been well placed.

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.