US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. How China steals our secrets (New York Times)

By failing to act, Washington is effectively fulfilling China's research requirements while helping to put Americans out of work, writes Richard Clarke.

2. Lévy for le president (Wall Street Journal)

This editorial asks: How about a write-in ballot for Maurice Lévy, whose business success is making him the most publicly reviled man in the country?

3. How Romney can overcome his shortcomings (Washington Post)

Romney, who speaks politics awkwardly, now faces his largest political task: He must be something more than a generic Republican, says Michael Gerson.

4. And now, the Veepstakes (New York Times)

Don't throw your own hat into the ring. If the last few election cycles are any guide, to be named a running mate is to befall an evil spell that ultimately strains your sanity, scrambles your future and does grievous injury to your reputation, writes Frank Bruni.

5. Bosnian war offers lessons for Syria's conflict (Washington Post)

Bosnia shows the way. The Syrian war will worsen. Many more people will be killed and, finally, the United States will have to show Turkey and Saudi Arabia how these things are done, writes Richard Cohen.

6. Obamacare will be Romney's savior (LA Times)

Romney has been attacking Obamacare since its inception. "I'll stop it in its tracks on Day One!" he promises constantly on the stump, says Johah Goldberg.

7. Romney's "Women Problem" (Wall Street Journal)

William McGurn says that Romney's inability to generate much excitement among women appears related to a general inability to generate much excitement among anyone.

8. Battle hymn of the anti-abortion feminist (Politico)

In the ongoing debate over women's health care, one voice has been mostly absent: that of the anti-abortion feminist, writes Lila Rose.

9. The imagination goes wild: Paying for the health care of the irresponsible (Chicago Tribune)

You healthy people will be paying more for juicers, addicts, gangbangers, smokers, fatsos, drunken drivers and other assorted careless, thoughtless creatures, writes Dennis Byrne.

10. Obama joins attacks on court even before health care ruling (Washington Examiner)

During his 2010 State of the Union speech, he took the rare step of scolding the Supreme Court as justices looked on in the House chamber, says this editorial.

President Obama speaking at the White House Rose Garden 2 April. Credit: Getty Images
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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.