Obama to talk of job creation and economic growth in three day tour

US President has embarked on a three day tour of Midwestern states.

Barack Obama has embarked on a three day bus tour of Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota - the three Midwestern states that he will need to carry if he is to win the 2012 presidential election. As media attention is increasingly focused on Tea Party insurgents such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, Obama's approval rating has slipped to 39 per cent - the lowest since he took office.

The debate about America's debt ceiling, and the downgrading of the US credit rating from AAA, has also dominated headlines, although US industrial growth has increased at a greater than expected rate. Obama will campaign in Iowa just days after Rick Perry equated quantitative easing with treason and Michele Bachmann scored 30 per cent in the state's straw poll.

The official website for Obama's re-election says little in the way of policy, but is instead focused on organising grass roots support, as the then Democratic Presidential candidate did to great success in 2009. However, the Tea Party has emulated the sort of bottom up populism that characterised Obamania, with politicians such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann casting themselves as Washington outsiders, much as Obama did two years ago.

Travelling in a shiny black tour bus and looking considerably more grey haired than when he took office, Obama will take a measure of bi-partisanship and national unity to his audiences, criticising the Republicans for sabotaging his deficit plan and appealing to Americans' patriotism to put the economy before political point-scoring. He has referred to the "broken politics" in Washington, and the fact that "some folks in Congress...think that doing something in cooperation with me, or this White House...somehow is bad politics."

Obama will speak to farmers and rural organisation as well as small business owners and schoolchildren. He will discuss ideas for job creation and economic growth, including the creation of an infrastructure bank.

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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.