Nigel Farage poses for a photograph as he unveils a new UKIP campaign poster for European Elections on May 11, 2014 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cooper and Lammy's condemnation of Farage as "racist" puts pressure on Miliband

The Labour leader is being pushed to be less ambiguous in his criticism of the Ukip leader.

In his interviews yesterday and today, Ed Miliband was careful to avoid condemning Nigel Farage as a "racist" for his comments on Romanians. He described the remark (suggesting that people should be worried if Romanians moved next door to them) as "a racial slur" but added: "I don’t think of Nigel Farage as a racist himself". After working hard to dispel the perception that Labour regards anyone concerned about immigration as a "bigot", it is not hard to see why Miliband is reluctant to attack the Ukip leader in such terms. 

Rather than denouncing Farage for his stance on foreigners, Miliband has focused on criticising him as "more Thatcherite than Thatcher", highlighting his past support for a flat tax, GP charges and the abolition of maternity and paternity leave. 

But there are many in Labour, including in the shadow cabinet, who would like Miliband to offer a less ambiguous condemnation of the Ukip leader's remarks. In interviews today, David Lammy and Yvette Cooper have both been blunter in their criticism. Lammy told the Daily Politics: "What Nigel Farage said over the weekend was racist. So I'm clear, he's a racist. I am from a background where my parents arrived here as immigrants. I remember a context in which some people said: 'You don't want these people living next door to you.' That was racist."

Cooper later told ITV News: "It's not racist to be worried about immigration or to want stronger controls, but it is racist to somehow stir up fears about Romanians living next door. So Ukip should say they were wrong on that." As the Labour figure responsible for immigration policy, her intervention was significant.

It's worth noting, however, that Lammy himself said it was not worth getting into a "pedantic discussion of the difference between a racial slur and racism." But their comments will still increase the pressure on Miliband to explain why he does not regard Farage as a racist, rather than merely why it is not helpful to do so. 

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.