Michael Gove goes from Education Secretary to Chief Whip. Photo: Getty
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Michael Gove becomes Chief Whip; Nicky Morgan takes over as Education Secretary

The former Education Secretary Michael Gove is now Chief Whip, replacing Sir George Young. Women's minister Nicky Morgan has replaced Gove - although she will also keep her equalities role.

In more harrowing news for the PM's middle-aged white men, Education Secretary and neocon darling of the Tory right Michael Gove has been demoted from his post to Chief Whip, with an "enhanced role in campaigning and doing broadcast media interviews", according to the PM's Twitter feed.

This is another surprise move in Cameron's shake-up of his government this week, perhaps only eclipsed by the news that William Hague has resigned from the cabinet as Foreign Secretary and will be standing down next year.

Gove will be replaced by Treasury minister Nicky Morgan, who has quietly and confidently been earning her stripes and has been increasingly praised as a somewhat hidden Tory talent by pundits. Morgan will retain her role as minister for Women and Equalities. This appointment goes with the general predictions, which have been rumbling away for weeks, that the PM's final reshuffle of this parliament was going to be one for promoting women to the top tiers of his regime.

Gove's appointment is a strange one. He is known for having the gift of the gab, and even for those who loathe him (of whom there are many), he is an arresting figure during interviews and at the despatch box. The role of Chief Whip usually means you stay silent, out of the limelight, and can't take too many media appearances. Perhaps then it makes sense that Cameron seems to have tweaked the role especially for Gove by requiring a more outward role in campaigning and broadcast interviews. The two roles - operating behind the scenes and being a public face of the party - don't sit comfortably though, and it suggests the PM was hard-pressed to find an alternative position for his former education secretary.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at 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.