Let us start by wishing Caroline Spelman well and thanking her for being a champion of biodiversity during her time at Defra. The outgoing Secretary of State did a good job on international biodiversity protection – and was notable for her own personal successes at the Nagoya meeting.
Spelman lacked charisma and had the air of a head girl when making a speech. In a time when presentation is rather important she lacked some of the skills to make a political impact. Often she said the right things in ways that made them sound wrong or dull. But she usually did say the right things.
Her ‘head girl’ image was heightened by the fact that she actually seemed to stick to government policy. She seems to get much of the blame for the forestry debacle but she wasn’t the Forestry Minister. I still regard David Cameron’s disavowal of his government’s forestry policy in PM’s Question Time as a very telling indication that the Prime Minister is a dreadfully inexperienced manager (no skilled manager would behave in such a way) and despite the veneer, no gentleman either. No gent would inflict pain and pass the buck in such a wounding way as he did. I suspect that every time he saw Spelman across the cabinet table he felt a pang of guilt and he will now be released from that recurring pain.
Spelman, like most head girls (not that I claim a great experience in that regard) tended to do what she was told – she behaved and stuck to the rules. In the first months of this government she lay about her in disbanding quangos and making the requisite budget cuts. She led the way and her reward from George Osborne and Francis Maude was to be left high and dry with some of the biggest budget cuts of any department. Again, this shows the lack of management experience of Treasury Gideon. I’ve experienced plenty of budget rounds, mostly with increases in resources but some with real cuts. In either case some of your staff will push the boundaries as much as you let them and others will stick to the rules. As a manager you need to make sure that the boundary-pushers don’t gain too much and the line-holders are not too disadvantaged. Or do we just assume that Gideon wanted the environment to be hit so hard?
But the Head Girl is dead, long live the new Head Boy. Owen Paterson is keen on horse racing – that’s the best thing I can say about him at the moment. He is said to be anti-CAP, anti-CFP, anti-windfarm, pro-hunting and an expert on bovine TB. The Countryside Alliance welcomed his appointment.
Jim Paice also leaves Defra. Mr Paice is an old-guard rather decent Tory farmer from the shires who farms a bit, shoots at things a bit and has a good knowledge of country wildlife. He is a grumpy so-and-so but at least he is grumpy to everyone.
I remember talking to Mr Paice at a dinner at a Conservative Party conference and his tale of the Brighton bombing made me realise how ordinary folk like Jim (and that is not meant to be in any way disparaging) can get caught up in horrific events and how their fate might be determined by staying or not staying for another late night drink.
I think that Jim was a victim of the need to have a Lib Dem in Defra which really meant it was either him or Richard Benyon who had to go to make room. Benyon is a friend of the Prime Minister and, let’s face it, Paice has had his ministerial turn in the previous Conservative government and now again in this one, so it was probably Jim’s destiny to make way for other, younger, hairier politicians.
Paice is replaced by a bearded West Country Lib Dem, David Heath, who was born in Somerset and has a constituency with lots of badgers and now, thanks to the RSPB and WWT, a few cranes flying around it.
The Defra website switched Paterson’s name for that of Spelman with almost undue haste, but seemed to be in denial over Paice’s exit, taking hours to make the change.
I notice that Nick Herbert has stepped down from the government – the Spectator says he had a tense relationship with Theresa May but Mr Herbert says he wants to spend more time protecting the countryside. Things could have been so different if it hadn’t been for those pesky voters electing a few rather hopeless Liberal Democrats and necessitating a coalition government. Will we hear more from Mr Herbert in the House of Commons on countryside matters, will the Countryside Alliance find a part-time role for Mr Herbert or could he become Director of Songbird Survival?
The Joker card is capable of almost anything or almost nothing, depending on the rules of the game. It has been suggested (Dianne Longley, 1999) that “the Joker is the ‘wild-card’, or the card of opportunity, not unlike the ethos of opportunity and individuality that has been the driving force behind America’s pursuit of greatness.” Some historians have seen the Joker as a descendant of the Fool of Italian tarot cards, and in some 19th century tarot sets the Fool was depicted as a harlequin or buffoon. (From ‘The Joker – World of Playing Cards)