Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Will Osborne dare to be radical when he appoints the next Governor of the Bank of England? (Independent)

The sheer power of modern Governors makes the Chancellor's decision momentous - which is why senior Lib Dems are so determined to have a say in it, writes Steve Richards.

2. On Trident, Miliband needs to be brave and jump ship (Guardian)

With the Tories and Lib Dems at odds over our cold-war nuclear defences, Labour has to forge a political third way, says Polly Toynbee.

3. An insidious threat to the right to know (Daily Mail)

The arrest of a Greek magazine editor for exposing allegations of tax dodging should alarm every democrat, says a Daily Mail editorial.

4. A day of judgment over the EU budget (Daily Telegraph)

The vote on the EU budget gives MPs a chance to follow in the steps of Margaret Thatcher, says Daniel Hannan.

5. Another good idea let down by neglect (Financial Times)

Reform of the police service is falling victim to an all too familiar sloppiness, writes Janan Ganesh.

6. Pilgrims’ Progress (Times) (£)

The Anglican tradition is a rich civic resource; a new Archbishop must not pit the Church against modernity, says a Times leader.

7. Hillsborough shows why we need a permanent truth commission (Guardian)

There's an urgent need for independent oversight of incidents of malpractice – and the Hillsborough panel could provide a model, writes Michael Mansfield.

8. Lebanon can heal divisions to deter Syria (Financial Times)

Assad’s attempt to exploit his neighbour’s divisions might have a unifying effect, writes David Gardner.

9. Dither and delay have put our forests at risk (Daily Telegraph)

The government is finally acting decisively against ash dieback disease, notes a Daily Telegraph editorial. Why not sooner?

10. John Prescott’s political survival is a miracle (Independent)

Despite his affair, incompetent policies and amateur boxing, the career of this former merchant navy seaman sails on, writes Dominic Lawson.

GETTY
Show Hide image

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.