George Osborne backs Christine Lagarde for IMF

Chancellor delivers the final blow to Gordon Brown’s hopes.

Chancellor George Osborne last night spelled out his backing for the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, to take on the top job at the IMF after the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Osborne said:

On the basis of merit, I believe Christine is the outstanding candidate for the IMF – and that's why Britain will back her. She's shown real international leadership as chair of the G20 finance ministers this year. She has also been a strong advocate for countries tackling high budget deficits and living within their means. We support her because she's the best person for the job, but I also personally think it would be a very good thing to see the first female managing director of the IMF in its 60-year history.

The snub to the former prime minister Gordon Brown is implicit. Osborne puts emphasis on "merit", and also the fact that Lagarde has been an advocate for countries living "within their means". The latter point echoes the explicit criticism David Cameron made of Brown's suitability for the job back in April, while Strauss-Kahn was still secure in the job. The Prime Minister said:

Above all, what matters is – is the person running the IMF someone who understands the dangers of excessive debt, excessive deficit? And it really must be someone who gets that rather than someone who says that they don't see a problem.

Vince Cable also undermined Brown's chances for the job in comments last week when he said that "promoting national champions, whoever they are, probably isn't the best way of dealing with this. The IMF is dealing with a major economic crisis in Europe. They need somebody very effective and respected. Particularly somebody who understands the internal problems of the eurozone."

Meanwhile Brown, who recently visited South Africa to launch a high-level panel on education, said that his visit was not a "pitch for the job" at the IMF. Now that he has definitively lost the British government's backing, however, there is little chance that the role will be his.

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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.