Probably not, as it happens. (Image: Flickr/Liberal Democrats)
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About that Liberal Democrat "private polling"...

The Liberal Democrats made a splash with their private polling. But the published results indicate that they may be grasping at straws.

The Liberal Democrats made a splash recently when they briefed a series of favourable private polls showing the party doing better than the national figures would suggest. Our sister site, May2015, went so far as to declare that the party will win "at least" 30 seats on the back of the figures. Now they've released one of the polls, showing the party just a point behind in Hornsey & Wood Green, a seat that, as I've said before, Labour expect to win even if they fall short badly across the country.

The numbers have already been greeted with scepticism by others in the polling community. The survey is weighted back to 2010 recalled voting, rather than to the midterm of the parliament. According to James Morris, Labour's pollster, this would transform Labour's narrow lead in the constituency to a seven-point one. Laurence Janta-Lipinski of YouGov, meanwhile, warns that the poll's structure - which asks respondents whether they approve or disapprove of the local candidates before asking the final question - many distort the outcome.

It may be, of course, that the Liberal Democrats' private pollsters are just smarter than everyone else's pollsters. So let's take the number at face value for a moment. Lynne Featherstone has been the Liberal candidate in the seat since 1997. She's an active, hard-working, high profile, and has held that she's held for a decade, the last time by more than 6,500 votes. Compare that to say, Berwick-upon-Tweed, where the longstanding Liberal MP, Alan Beith, is retiring, and his would-be successor, Julie Pörksen, inherits a majority of just 2,690. Or Wells, where the party has the benefit of incumbency but Tessa Munt has a majority of only 800.

Put bluntly: even if this "secret poll" is taken at face value, if the Liberal Democrats are a point behind Labour in Hornsey & Wood Green, what kind of a bloodbath are they facing elsewhere?

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

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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.