Ed Miliband answers questions from members of the public during his People's Question Time at Nelson and Colne College on February 19, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband floors Cameron on MPs' second jobs

The Prime Minister was left looking as inert as Gordon Brown following the expenses scandal. 

It is some time since David Cameron has endured a defeat as bad as that he suffered at today's PMQs. Ed Miliband unsurprisingly led on the lobbying scandal and pressed the case for reform of MPs' second jobs (the subject of a Labour motion tonight). Cameron replied that he did not rule out "further changes" but the tone of lofty scepticism was unmistakable. At this, an animated Miliband pounced. Had the PM not once declared that "double-jobbing MPs won’t get a look-in when I’m in charge"? Cameron replied with what he thought was a trump card - Labour's motion would allow MPs to serve as paid trade union officials - but it proved to be a dud. Miliband simply ruled out this exemption and invited the PM to do business. (There are, in any case, no Labour MPs who occupy this role.) He offered to consult on the level of an outside earnings cap, while demanding that the government agree to a ban on directorships and consultancies. 

A wrong-footed Cameron could only respond with pre-heated attacks on the trade unions, intermingled with cheap barbs at Tristram Hunt and David Miliband over their outside earnings. (The most reliable indicator of a defeat for the PM is the number of times he mentions Len McCluskey and co.) Swatting away the case for reform, he appeared as inert as Gordon Brown did following the expenses scandal. "This is a very big test. You can vote for two jobs, or you can vote for one. I’ll be voting for one job; what will he be voting for?" cried Miliband with the confidence of a man who knows he has the public on his side (voters support a ban on MPs holding second jobs by 56 per cent to 25). In return, Cameron could only offer feeble non sequiturs: "I make an offer to him, no more support from trade unions for the Labour Party – then we’ve got a deal!" He looked like what he was: a man desperate to change the subject. 

Following his exchanges with Miliband, Cameron was questioned by the DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds on the seemingly doomed TV debates. Today's session was an apt reminder of why he does not want to face the leader of the opposition. 

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.