The war pundits

The right-wing press denies dignity to our enemies and trivialises the horror of war.

The American media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner once said: "Sport is like a war without the killing." The bellicose right-wingers among the British press seem to have inverted the idea, presenting military conflict as a crude, point-scoring game.

"Hotshot sniper in one-and-a-half-mile double kill", said a Times headline on 2 May. The cavalryman Craig Harrison had "set a new sharp-shooting distance record by killing two Taliban machine-gunners in Afghanistan from more than a mile away". The Daily Star marvelled at the "amazing shots", which hit one Taliban soldier in the stomach and the other in the side. Both died immediately.

In April, Wikileaks published decrypted footage of a dozen Iraqis -- including two employees of Reuters -- being killed in Baghdad by a US air crew that falsely claimed to have encountered a firefight. The website's director, Julian Assange, compared the American soldiers' behaviour to that of people playing a "computer game". One laughs and boasts, "I hit 'em"; another responds, "Look at those dead bastards."

This kind of abstraction, which strips our military enemies of their humanity, is dangerous and shameful. The Jeffersonian notion that war is a great evil necessary to ward off a greater evil seems to have been phased out in favour of an insistence on the valour of our troops, set against the incomprehensible malice of our enemies.

Hence the Daily Mail's glee in reporting how Harrison had "killed 12 more rebels and wounded seven others", and that "scores of Taliban gunmen have fallen to the gun which has been nicknamed the Silent Assassin".

The papers' preoccupation with Harrison's "kills", which, "from a distance of 8,120ft, beat the previous record by 150ft", only serves to trivialise the reality that soldiers continue to lose their lives on both sides of the conflict.

Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

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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.