Goodbye Andy. And good riddance

Some random thoughts on Coulson’s resignation.

1) Where's Jo Moore these days? Remember the good ol' "good day to bury bad news" and 9/11? The problem for the Tories is that the news hasn't been buried – by Blair's return appearance at the Iraq inquiry or by Alan Johnson's resignation as shadow chancellor – and is leading all the bulletins, even on the BBC, which basically ignored the story for as long as it could.

2) That Coulson couldn't spin his own departure in a suitable manner speaks volumes about his skills (or lack thereof) as a top-level spinner.

3) That Cameron decided to back his director of communications so publicly – on Monday morning's Today programme – less than 72 hours before Coulson handed in his resignation speaks volumes about the Prime Minister's political judgement (or lack thereof) and so, too, of course, does his decision to hire Coulson in the first place.

4) It's been a bad 24 hours for the Chancellor, George Osborne. He'll have to raise his departmental game as he's now facing Ed Balls across the despatch box – Labour's most formidable economist (just ask Samuel Brittan of the FT!) and a brilliant political strategist, too. Plus, Boy George is the man who convinced Cameron to hire Coulson in order to (re-)build relations with the Murdoch empire and the right-wing press. Bad move.

5) Vince Cable's "war" against the Murdoch empire may have backfired but hats off to the Guardian's Nick Davies and the Labour MPs Tom Watson and Chris Bryant for leading the charge against the News of the World and the pathetic efforts by the Murdoch and Coulson apologists to shut this story down.

6) The Press Complaints Commission, the CPS and Scotland Yard should all hang their heads in shame and I'm sure they'll have to, at some stage in the near future. This story ain't going away.

7) On the issue of resignations, isn't it fascinating, in this era of leaks, gossip, 24-hour news channels, blogs and tweets, that both Labour and the Tories were able to keep their respective resignations (of Johnson and Coulson) under wraps and leak-proof? Johnson told Ed Mili that he was quitting on Monday; Coulson told Cameron he was standing down on Wednesday.

8) My then colleague James Macintyre predicted that Coulson would be gone within six months . . . four months ago. Semi-prophetic.

9) The political obituaries of Coulson seem to be glossing over his "bullying" of colleagues while editor of the News of the World. If you need a reminder, check out my NS column from September 2010 for the details.

10) Who succeeds Coulson as the Tories' – and the government's – spinner-in-chief? Will Cameron go for a Murdoch empire appointee? Ironically, Ed Miliband did (in the form of the ex-Times hack Tom Baldwin). Is the ex-Sun political editor George Pascoe-Watson the natural replacement? Or will it be the more thoughtful and Cameroonian ex-speechwriter and former Indie deputy editor Ian Birrell? Will the Lib Dems get a say in the appointment? Just kidding . . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

GETTY
Show Hide image

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.