Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Middle East faces years of disorder (Financial Times)

Arabs have concluded that if the US is quitting, they had better start fighting their own corners, writes Philip Stephens.

2. Labour should join Justin Welby's war on Wonga (Guardian)

The party should join faith groups to help the archbishop of Canterbury in his fight against usury, writes Maurice Glasman.

3. The royals are not like us. But they should be (Times)

Prince George’s birth is no time for republican arguments, writes Philip Collins. But it does show the need for a stripped-down monarchy.

4. The master strategist with the common touch (Daily Telegraph)

The rage directed at the Tories’ political strategist is a sure sign that he's doing his job well, says John McTernan.

5. At last, George Osborne has got in touch with his inner Keynes (Guardian)

With his buy-to-let scheme the chancellor is finally pumping cash to a more productive place than bank vaults, writes Simon Jenkins. 

6. Airy-fairy Lib Dems must face life outside the goldfish bowl (Daily Telegraph)

Clegg and his colleagues are trying their best to persuade activists to adopt a more grown-up approach to policy, writes Isabel Hardman.

7. Bo Xilai and how the mighty of China have fallen (Independent)

So many flowers of hubris and ambition are entwined in this story of China's communist aristocracy that it is hard to know what moral to draw from it, writes Peter Popham.

8. Growth must reach the north and low-earners (Times)

We must not return to the unbalanced British economy of the pre-crash years, writes George Osborne

9. Don’t blame the best-paid 1 per cent – they’re worth it (Daily Telegraph)

The wealthy have never forked out more and the lower-paid half of the populace have never had to pay a smaller share of income tax, writes Fraser Nelson.

10. No women over 50 allowed (unless it's Helen Mirren) (Guardian)

A generation of women is being bundled out of jobs at an alarming rate, and the world of work gets more insane as a result, writes Polly Toynbee.

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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.