Lord McAlpine on the BBC: the most unsettling interview of the year

As the frail-sounding Conservative peer spoke, the scale of the wrongs against him became clear.

Lord McAlpine's interview with BBC Radio 4′s World at One made for profoundly unsettling listening. As the frail-sounding Conservative peer spoke ("I've got a very dicky heart," he said), the scale of the wrongs against him became clear. Asked whether Boris Johnson was right to say that to call someone a paedophile is to "consign them to the lowest circle of hell - and while they're still alive", McAlpine replied:

Absolutely. I think it describes pretty much what happened to me in the first few days of this event...it gets in to your bones. It gets into, it makes you angry. And that's extremely bad for you to be angry. And it gets into your soul. You just think there's something wrong with the world.

Paedophiles are "quite rightly figures of public hatred", he said, adding that "to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying."

He said that he was seeking compensation from the BBC but that his claim would be tempered by the fact that "this is the licence payer who's going to pay this - not the people who made the programme, not the people who authorised the programme, not the people who told the lie in the first place."

In an interview with the same programme, McAlpine's solicitor Andrew Reid urged those who had named the peer Twitter to come forward in order to avoid prolonged legal action. He said: "What we're basically saying to people is, look, we know - in inverted commas - who you are, we know exactly the extent of what you've done. It's easier to come forward and see us and apologise and arrange to settle with us because, in the long run, this is the cheapest and best way to bring this matter to an end."

He revealed that he had received two apologies from Guardian columnist George Monbiot (whose "abject apology" to McAlpine can be read here) but had yet to hear from Speaker's wife Sally Bercow, who tweeted: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*". He added that legal proceedings would be initiated against her. "She has left us with no choice."

Conservative peer Alistair McAlpine, who was falsely accused of involvement in the north Wales child abuse scandal.

George Eaton is political editor of 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.