Reasons to vote Tory. Or not.

Blair believed in what he was doing, but it is far from clear that Cameron does.

Here are three arguments for voting Tory in the forthcoming election. First, a hung parliament might spook the markets, causing a run on the pound and a refusal to buy UK government bonds. We would all be ruined and should therefore, whatever our usual allegiances, support the only party likely to achieve a clear majority. Second, a narrow Tory victory would leave David Cameron dependent on the votes of MPs who oppose action on global warming. Third, just as many natural Tories supported Tony Blair in 1997 because he cleansed Labour of any traces of socialism, so we lefties should back Cameron, because he excludes Thatcherite purists from mainstream politics.

But I can't do it, and not only because, whereas Blair believed in what he was doing, it is far from clear that Cameron does. British elections aren't merely about who you want in Downing Street, but about what kind of people you want on the government benches of the Commons and what kind of company they keep. If I ever think of voting Tory, I recall a party conference in the early 1990s where I witnessed, from a few seats away, the orgasmic excitement of overfed, red-faced delegates as speakers ranted about criminals, single mums and benefit scroungers; the minister who, at a late-night conference reception, smacked his lecherous lips while delivering his assessment of nearby women's bodies; the "jokes" about black people some Tories make in private dinner speeches where they think no one will object (or leak to the press).

I recall also the Iraq war. With Labour, there was at least, thanks to a backbench rebellion and Robin Cook's resignation, a significant chance of stopping British involvement. Under a Tory government, there would have been none.

This story appears in this week's edition of the New Statesman.

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Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

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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.