Sian Berry has received Caroline Lucas's backing. Photo: YouTube screengrab
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A blow for Bennett? Caroline Lucas backs Sian Berry for the Greens' London Mayoral candidate

"Dynamic, articulate and engaging."

Caroline Lucas has announced she is backing Green politician Siân Berry to be her party's candidate for the London mayoralty.

Berry was the party's candidate in the 2008 mayoral election, and has held high-profile positions in the party for a number of years. She served as principal speaker (what is now a leadership position) from 2006-7, and is a Green councillor on Camden Council, for Highgate ward.

She has burnished her environmental credentials in the capital, through campaigns such as a drive to reduce 4x4s being driven in urban areas, a campaign to replace inefficient boilers, and a position covering roads and sustainable transport for the Campaign for Better Transport.

An experienced London Green then, and one who Lucas clearly deems worth endorsing. She commented:

Sian Berry has all the qualities and experience to make a really effective London mayoral candidate for the Greens.

Dynamic, articulate and engaging, she’s well known and widely admired, particularly for her outstanding work on environmental issues in the city. An experienced and effective local councillor and campaigner, she has a strong track record of promoting equality and social justice as well as sustainability.

Sian has used her position to forge excellent links with a wide range of groups in the city, and is committed to running a grassroots, open and inclusive campaign to reach and engage as many Londoners as possible. I’m delighted to endorse her candidacy.

But a side-effect of this endorsement is a blow for party leader Natalie Bennett. The talk is that Bennett is deliberating whether or not to run to be the Green candidate for London mayor.

It would be a high-stakes move for her to do so, because if she were to lose to another contender then it would surely mean the end of her leadership when it comes to the Greens' internal elections next year. Lucas's endorsement of Berry suggests that Bennett would not be the party's first choice for the mayoral race.

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.