Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. For all Lord Rennard's supporters: a guide to sexual harassment, and why it matters (Guardian)

Sexual harassment is all about who has the power, writes Polly Toynbee. And what women hear from the Lib Dems – yet again – is "not you".

2. Miliband’s mysterious aversion to public sector reform (Financial Times)

The Labour leader’s case for competition just happens to stop at the boundaries of the state, writes Janan Ganesh. 

3. Who are the new middle classes around the world? You'd be surprised how poor some are (Guardian)

The International Labour Organisation has identified a rapid growth of 'the developing middle class' – a group earning between $4 and $13 a day, writes Paul Mason.

4. Geneva II is the only hope for Syria – and Iran should have been part of it (Independent)

A long-term peace deal will have to take place, and it will take place with Iranian involvement, writes Kim Sengupta. 

5. All of England should become a bit Scottish (Times)

If Yorkshire, the Midlands and the South West want to be free of London’s domination they should emulate Holyrood, says Hugo Rifkind. 

6. Rennard won’t budge. The world moves on (Times)

Public opinion has become more enlightened about gender equality, as the Lib Dem fiasco unintentionally shows, says Rachel Sylvester.

7. George Osborne’s Whack-a-Mole tactic is denying Labour any advantage (Daily Telegraph)

The Conservative high command is focusing its 2015 campaign on neutralising the enemy, writes Benedict Brogan. 

8. Get ready, the indispensable Americans are pulling back (Financial Times)

The rest of the world is adjusting to an emerging political and security vacuum, writes Gideon Rachman.  

9. Nick Clegg can’t sack Lord Rennard, and Lord Rennard can’t apologise. It’s just another day of lose-lose politics (Independent)

The term "sexual harassment" is part of the problem with this saga, writes Steve Richards. 

10. Don’t mislead us about our medical records (Daily Telegraph)

The NHS wants us to hand over our personal health details – yet it cannot guarantee anonymity, writes Philip Johnston. 

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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.