TV debates part two: the most exciting moment in politics ever in the world ever?

Election 2010: Guffwatch!

You'd never know that round two of the debates was tonight. It's quiet as volcanic ash out there - no hype, no spin, no hilariously hysterical newspaper attempts to batter a popular opponent. So in the midst of this smothering silence, and following on from last week's advice, some further tips for the leaders tonight.

1. Cambo, don't panic. The more you say you're "really, really" enjoying every second of the election campaign, especially the debates, the clearer it is that you are actually thinking, "How the bloody Cotswolds HELL did I mess this one up so comprehensively?" The panic, though, is a bad look: you go all tight-eyed and clenched and false-friendly and rolled-up sleeves and everything's FINE and I feel you might be a danger to yourself and those around you. Take a leaf out of Gordo's book: be unnaturally, strangely calm.

2. Cambo and Gordo, for God's sake, don't think you can pull off the Clegg tricks without anyone noticing. The first time one of you a) looks straight into the camera, b) repeatedly uses an audience member's name or c) insouciantly plunges your hands into your pockets, the entire country will simultaneously erupt in a giant groan of contempt before turning off the television and deciding that doing the Heat crossword would be an activity packed with greater integrity and insight.

3. Try and sort out what on earth happens at the end. Last week there was the weird Cameron-tugging-Cleggoland's-sleeve debacle. This week I can imagine Cambo rugby-tackling Gordo round the knees if he tries to gladhand the crowd again. Just mutually agree to spend the last five minutes wrestling on stage or something. Or a song? A song would be lovely.

4. Clegg, hold it together. Yours is the hardest task - after all that "look! he's Obama!" and "look! it's Jesus!" stuff, unless you juggle while balancing on a unicycle with a ball on your nose the whole way through you're inevitably going to disappoint everyone. My tip? Every now and then, break into that fluent Spanish of yours. Impressive, and it's foreign affairs isn't it? Must be allowed.

5. Adam Boulton, heir to the mighty Alastair Stewart. Just be better than Stewart - less barking, less debilitating nerves - that's all I ask.

(Predictions: Clegg, overwhelmed by the sheer force of his own insubstantiated popularity compulsively lies the whole way through - no once can take that much spontaneous love. Cambo, knowing this is his moment of truth, lists so many people he's met that he loses control and starts fabricating them ("And then I met Miss Piggy and Lady Gaga, who hadn't managed to have their hips done on the NHS, and it's a scandal I tell you!). Brown, coached on joke-cracking for the whole week, will randomly insert gags at entirely inappropriate moments. Eg, in the middle of Boulton's intro, "How many Lib Dems does it take to change a light bulb?!", before cackling away to himself in the corner.)

Sophie Elmhirst is features 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.