David Cameron said "we are all Thatcherites now". Apart from him, it would seem

The PM contradicts himself - is he a Thatcherite or not?

David Cameron has done a big interview with the Sunday Times (£) this weekend, and it's confused me quite a bit.

The morning of Margaret Thatcher's funeral, David Cameron gave an interview to the Today programme, in which he said:

I think in a way we’re all Thatcherites now because – I mean – I think one of the things about her legacy is some of those big arguments that she had had, you know, everyone now accepts. No-one wants to go back to trade unions that are undemocratic or one-sided nuclear disarmament or having great private sector businesses in the public sector.

You can listen to it here, just in case you missed it at the time:

 

Clear enough, you'd think. He's a Thatcherite, and he thinks the rest of us are too. But talking to Eleanor Mills for the Sunday Times, the Prime Minister changed his tune. She asked him again, and he said:

No... other people might call me that. I think the label’s now… it’s slightly become… labels now don’t quite mean what they did then.

When reminded that others in his party do call themselves Thatcherites, he responded "each to his own".

It turns out, he's moved on. Rather quickly, though, it would seem:

I was a tremendous Thatcher supporter... but there are now other challenges that need to be dealt with. I have problems with some of the Thatcher legacy — I’ve been more socially liberal.

Aside from Cameron's muddle over Thatcher the interview is worth reading in full if you can get your hands on a copy or breach the paywall, not least because it's a rare sit-down with a journalist who isn't in the lobby. In practice, this means that it doesn't contain much of the political doublespeak and Westminster code you so often get in these things. For instance, Mills writes:

I see what they mean about changing gears. I suddenly visualise him as a robot with four modes: 1. TV mode. 2. Public speaking. 3. Chummy to his aides. 4. Dispatch box. Adding to this cyborg persona is his almost artificially smooth, sleek skin — so peachy that he could be wearing foundation, though I don’t think he is. There’s definitely a whiff of the ham actor, or Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, about him. Cameron is a polished performer, but perhaps we might warm to him more if he made the odd Boris-style howler.

 

Jo Johnson and David Cameron. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is web 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.