Philippa Stroud: where is the media outrage?

The Observer reported on Sunday that a Tory PPC ran a church that tried to “cure” homosexuals. Why h

On Sunday, the Observer carried this report on a high-flying Conservative candidate, Philippa Stroud, who is standing in the seat of Sutton and Cheam, in Surrey.

It's entirely possible that you missed the story, as it doesn't appear to have been picked up by any other mainstream news outlets.

If you did, the main charge levelled against Stroud is that she founded a church and night shelter in Bedford, the King's Arms Project, which tried to "cure" homosexuals by driving out their demons through prayer.

One girl described her experience to the Observer:

Abi, a teenage girl with transsexual issues, was sent to the church by her parents, who were evangelical Christians. "Convinced I was demonically possessed, my parents made the decision to move to Bedford, because of this woman [Stroud] who had come back from Hong Kong and had the power to set me free."

The Pink News followed up, obtaining a statement from the candidate:

Today, Mrs Stroud issued a statement saying: "I make no apology for being a committed Christian. However it is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that the Observer has suggested otherwise."

When PinkNews.co.uk pointed out to her spokesman that the Observer's prime claim was not that she believed homosexuality to be an illness, rather that she appeared to believe it could be overcome through prayer and removing "demons", he said: "We will not be adding to or subtracting to the statement." [Sic]

It's difficult to see why this story hasn't created a huge storm in the mainstream media, particularly because the Conservatives' questionable position on gay rights has been a talking point of this election.

It seems even stranger, given that the comments of Manish Sood -- a Labour candidate much less influential in his party than Stroud is in hers -- about Gordon Brown's premiership have, within hours, made it into almost all the mainstream media outlets.

A campaign to bring the story to wider media attention has had #PhilippaStroud trending on Twitter. Last night, a Guardian blog reported that the story had been linked to on Facebook more than 5,000 times and tweeted more than 7,000 times.

As one tweet sums it up:

Gordon Brown calls ONE voter a bigot. Press goes MENTAL. #PhilippaStroud calls MILLIONS of voters demons. Silence. Why?

If the allegations are true -- and at the moment there is no reason to doubt it, as they have not been denied -- it is a very serious matter indeed that Stroud could hold public office in just two days' time.

Will the main broadcasters and newspapers pick up on the story? Where's the media outrage when you need it?

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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.