Morning call: the pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the morning papers.

1. David Cameron: ‘I have problems with the Thatcher legacy’ (Sunday Times) (£)

The coalition is floundering, yet David Cameron still exudes supreme self-confidence at the dispatch box. As he campaigns for this week’s local elections, Eleanor Mills pins him down

2. The best place to change the EU is the EU (Independent on Sunday)

Former European Commissioner for Trade Lord Mandelson says David Cameron is wrong to pick a fight with Europe.

3. You're only in it for yourself, Nigel: Top Tory donor's blistering open letter to UKIP leader (Mail on Sunday)

An open letter from Michael Ashcroft.

4. A crime mystery. It's going down, but no one really knows why (Observer)

Nearly all the so-called experts predicted that austerity would lead to more crime. The opposite is happening, says Andrew Rawnsley.

5. Human rights are worth fighting for (Sunday Mirror)

If there’s one thing that exposes the hypocrisy of the Tories as the so-called party of law and order, it’s human rights, says John Prescott.

6. Good policies can transcend Right and Left (Sunday Telegraph)

The welfare reform programme is a true instance of compassionate conservatism, says Janet Daley.

7. A contest between my two boys? That sounds like tremendous fun! It would be Bo-Jo v Jo-Jo (Mail on Sunday)

Stanley Johnson got the news late because he spilled wine on his phone. Now a proud father celebrates his son Jo's new job in No10.

8. It's fine to boost the arts, but we should first redefine them (Observer)

Given their importance to the British economy, we must think anew about our cultural industries, says Will Hutton.

9. Forget sarin — Assad crossed the red line with his first murder (Sunday Times) (£)

Are some methods of slaughtering our fellow humans more acceptable than others? Dominic Lawson says yes.

10. Boris and Jo Johnson: Two very different brothers with an eye on the big prize (Sunday Telegraph)

If Jo Johnson could borrow some of Boris’s magnetism there would be no limits to what he could achieve, says Bruce Anderson.

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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.