The Foreign Secretary and special envoy to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie co-chaired the End Sexual Violence in Conflict global summit last week. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

John Humphrys accuses William Hague of ignoring "what really mattered" by attending sexual violence conference

The Foreign Secretary and Angelina Jolie co-chaired the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit last week. Some of the media have decided this was frivolous hobnobbing.

Radio 4 Today programme presenter John Humphrys is the latest in old, white, male journalists to suggest the Foreign Secretary was being frivolous attending last week's sexual violence in conflict summit.

Humphrys' accusation of William Hague looking "starstruck" and diverting from "what really mattered" follows a weekend of negative coverage, including the Mail on Saturday accusing the minister of "hobnobbing", and Sky anchor Adam Boulton's Sunday Times column headlined, "Look away from Angelina, Mr Hague, and you’ll see Iraq in flames"

On the Today programme this morning, in what was supposed to be an interview about the latest developments in Iraq, Humphrys decided to "timidly" (his words) suggest Hague should not have been attending the conference by Angelina Jolie's side, with such turmoil unfolding in the Middle East.

He said to Hague: 

You must've been a bit embarrassed that with a full-blown crisis in the Middle East, you were in all the papers being photographed with Angelina Jolie - and no one's suggesting that rape, which is what that conference was all about, isn't a massive cause for concern, obviously it is - but it did look as if you were a bit starstruck and as if it was a bit of a diversion from what really mattered... 

You must've known the pictures in the papers were going to be of you with a very beautiful, very famous international superstar?... A bit embarrassing for you?

Here's the whole interview:


This mole "timidly" suggests it is Humphrys alone who should be "a bit embarrassed".

I'm a mole, innit.

GETTY
Show Hide image

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.