Former shadow policing minister David Ruffley was cautioned for domestic assault on his former partner in March this year. Photo: Getty
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Tories investigate MP over domestic assault caution

Michael Gove has launched a probe into Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley, after he was issued with a domestic assault caution earlier this year.

David Ruffley MP is under investigation by the Conservative party after receiving a caution for domestic assault earlier this year.

Michael Gove, the Government chief whip, launched an inquiry into the MP for Bury St Edmunds after his constituency Police and Crime Commissioner and a prominent member of the local clergy complained.

Ruffley accepted a police caution for common assault after an incident involving his former partner four  months ago.

His local Conservative Association brought forward a meeting to review the scandal from September to next week and could decide to initiate formal de-selection proceedings at a later date.

Growing public outrage has forced Gove's hand to intervene in a bid to stem damage to the party. He is expected to approach Ruffley personally to ascertain details of the incident.

The Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral wrote personally to Ruffley, copying her letter to Gove, Lord Tebbit and senior local Tories.

The Very Reverend Dr Frances Ward wrote: “You tried to convince me that in the ‘incident’ back in March there was blame on both sides. When I visited [redacted] in March a day or so after the event and went to hug her as my usual greeting, she winced in obvious pain.

"She told me as a friend and her priest of the events of the evening that had led to your arrest, and how frightened she had been of your rage and violent behaviour.”

Ward added: “It is my belief that you have lost the confidence of a significant proportion of your former supporters and should consider your position.”

Tim Passmore, the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, described Ruffley’s caution as “an implicit admission of guilt”.

“Domestic abuse is a dreadful crime which should not, and must not ever be tolerated, regardless of the circumstances,” he said. “This applies to all people regardless of wealth or status in society.”

He added: “The future of David Ruffley as a Member of Parliament and prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for the Bury St Edmunds constituency is a matter for their association but I hope I have made my views entirely clear, such behaviour is inexcusable.”

Bury Fawcett Society, a women’s rights group, have also called for the MP to be dropped at the next election.

Yesterday Ruffley issued a statement through his lawyer, in which he said he “deeply regrets” the behaviour that led to the police caution for common assault.

He admitted that the assault was “inappropriate action”, but said does not “condone” domestic violence. He has apologised and his ex-partner has accepted his apology, he said.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

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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.