Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. England must reject Scottish currency union (Financial Times)

It would be folly for the rest of the UK to enter such an arrangement voluntarily, says Martin Wolf. 

2. Empty Dave won’t be offering us any ideas (Times)

At least the Labour leader has a coherent philosophy, writes Philip Collins. The Prime Minster cares about little – but wants for nothing.

3. Giving 16-year-olds the vote can be Labour's Great Reform Act (Guardian)

Britain's rotten, bribery-based democracy discounts the young and the poor, says Polly Toynbee. Getting sixth-formers to vote is the first step to fixing it.

4. The Tories’ loop of vengeance could sink their election hopes (Daily Telegraph)

Many Conservative MPs are more fixated on internal battles over Europe than on winning the public vote in 2015, writes Fraser Nelson. 

5. Argentina is no danger to the world - but the eurozone is (Daily Telegraph)

Emerging markets are making headlines but it is the eurozone that is still in a really bad way, says Jeremy Warner. 

6. Germany, I apologise for this sickening avalanche of first world war worship (Guardian)

The festival of self-congratulation will be the British at their worst, and there are still years to endure, writes Simon Jenkins. A tragedy for both our nations.

7. Tory modernisers are getting their heads round mental health (Daily Telegraph)

Under true 'parity of esteem', the Conservatives seek to give equal weighting to mental and physical services in the NHS, writes Isabel Hardman. 

8. India is still in the great Asian race (Financial Times)

The chaos of democracy blunts the impulses that once held the threat of break-up, writes Philip Stephens.

9. The disturbing parallels between Syria's civil war and Spain in the 1930s (Independent)

Britons are joining in a foreign war just as they did 80 years ago, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.  

10. Immigration bill: political panic attack (Guardian)

The Tory rebels' defeat on the issue of powers to deport convicted criminals bore many of the attributes of victory, notes a Guardian editorial. 

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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.