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George Eaton appointed New Statesman political editor

Editor of The Staggers blog replaces Rafael Behr, who joins the Guardian as a political columnist. 

George Eaton is to succeed Rafael Behr as political editor of the New Statesman. Behr will be leaving the NS next month to join the Guardian as a political columnist. 

 

Eaton, the award-winning editor of the magazine’s rolling politics blog, The Staggers, joined the New Statesman in March 2009 as a graduate trainee, having previously worked at PoliticsHome. He has contributed hugely to the successful transformation of newstatesman.com and to the revitalisation of the magazine. He has had a series of impressive scoops over the past year, with agenda-setting stories and interviews with Len McCluskey of Unite, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and others. Under Eaton’s editorship, The Staggers won the Editorial Intelligence Best Online Comment Site award in 2013.

 

The New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, said: “George, who has been with me almost from the start of my editorship, is one of the outstanding journalistic talents of his generation and is one of the most gifted people I have ever worked with. He is both an incisive political commentator and a tenacious and instinctive story-getter.”

 

Eaton assumes his new role as the New Statesman celebrates its strongest growth in decades. In 2013, its centenary year, magazine subscriptions grew by 20 per cent and news-stand sales by 14 per cent; record online traffic made newstatesman.com the biggest political website in Britain. As circulation continues to rise and the magazine moves into profit, the editorial team is entering an exciting phase of expansion and development. The launch of a series of high-profile digital projects will be announced shortly.

 

Eaton said: “It is a privilege to take on this position at the most exciting and unpredictable moment in British politics for a generation. I look forward to maintaining and enhancing the New Statesman’s reputation for intellectual rigour, breaking news and political insight.”

 

Rafael Behr joined the New Statesman in June 2011 from the Observer, where he was chief leader writer. Commenting on his departure, Cowley said: “I knew Rafael from my time on the Observer. I knew, too, that the elegance of his writing, as well as his shrewd and nuanced political insights, would make the New Statesman’s weekly Westminster column a compelling read. Three years on, Rafael has established a reputation as one of Britain’s most authoritative political commentators and played an important part in transforming the fortunes of this great magazine. We shall miss him and he leaves with my best wishes.”

 

Behr said: “The New Statesman occupies a very special place in British politics, media, history and culture. It has been a privilege to work with the immensely talented team that has made it, without doubt, the liveliest, smartest and most creative weekly magazine covering politics in Britain today.”

 

For more information, please contact Anya Matthews on 07815 634 396 or anya.matthews@newstatesman.co.uk

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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.