Election 2010 Lookahead: Friday 16 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

Liberal Democrats

A busy day ahead for Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who will be campaigning in Warrington and Hull today, stopping off at Warrington Rugby League Football Club to meet the team with Lib Dem candidate for Warrington South, Jo Crotty, at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington (10am) and meeting engineers at a training session at HETA Hull on Copenhagen Road in Hull with the Lib Dem candidate for Hull North, Denis Healy (1.45pm).

He will also take part in an online Q&A with students on online forum The Student Room.

Conservatives

A quiet day for the Conservative party folowing yesterday evening's televised election debate. Travel delays caused by the Icelandic ash cloud may affect campaigning.

Labour

A quiet day for the Labour party folowing yesterday evening's televised election debate. Travel delays caused by the Icelandic ash cloud may affect campaigning. Labour will air an election broadcast on BBC Two (7.55pm), ITV1 (6.25pm), BBC1, (6.55pm), Five (7.25pm) and Channel 4 (7.55pm).

Other parties

Plaid Cymru will air an election broadcast on Channel Five (7.55pm).

The Media

Expect analysis of yesterday evening's televised election debate on ITV with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative Party leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to enter full swing. R4's Today programme interviews representatives of minor parties including the BNP, UKIP, Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru.Some repite from television coverage this evening of the three main parties following yesterday evening's debate.

Away from the campaign

The Broadway theatre in Barking is to host 'Spin The Election', a festival of arts described as 'an artistic response to all the hype and hubris' of the 6 May general election. Barking is the constituency in which BNP leader Nick Griffin is standing against Labour incumbent Margaret Hodge. It will open with 'A Day at the Racists', a new piece of political theatre about the rise of the BNP by Anders Lustgarten.

In Wales today an 84-year old is due to be sentenced for planting a revenge bomb after he was overcharged by his dentist. Peter McShane, 84, of Pembroke Dock, Wales, will be sentenced on eight charges. He planted a fake bomb outside the surgery, glued up the locks and stole a wall plaque following a visit to the dentist in 2007 when he was charged £183.

 

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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.