Reshuffling the cards

By GoShow (Own work. Added on to Flickr .) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
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.

By SAR Museum (Terry Rowe collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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)


24 Replies to “Reshuffling the cards”

  1. Hooray for Owen Paterson MP

    As Mark states – Owen Paterson is an expert on Badger TB – for it was he that tabled some 500 Parliamentary Questions on bTB in 2004 for Ben Bradshaw to answer. In 2004 23,000 cattle were slaughtered – up from some 5,000 in 1997 when Labour ceased culling diseased and infectious badgers – Last year it was 35,000.

    Unlike Spelman and Paice – Owen P understands what Prof Krebs set out to achieve with his ‘scientific’ trails – he understands why the trials failed – and in practice proved to be unscientific and badly managed ‘eg Prof Krebs said kill 100% of badgers in the pro-active areas – NOT as little as 25% .

    However – irrespective of Ministerial changers – the most significant factor with DEFRA remains the same – a high proportion of its workforce is staffed with left-wing loonies – put in place during New Labour’s 13 years regime. These (including many of the most senior) are anti-cull and will do their worst to foul-up the imminent ‘badger culling’ project. Indeed – they have started already!

    Mr Owen will have to sack those that break their employment contract.

    1. Trimbush – I didn’t encounter many ‘loonies’ in Defra in the days that I was much more often there, and those that I did meet didn’t lean very far to the left as far as I could see. But then it may be because I am leaning so far in one direction that my view is impaired. Or it could be that yours is? Thank you for your comment which makes it even clearer what sort of SoS is now in Defra.

    2. Both sides in the badger contraversy seem to make out that science conclusively proves their point of view. You see this again and again in debates about wildlife.

      However the truith is that often the position that science conclusively backs on many of these issues is that we simply don’t know.

      The proper ‘scientific’ stance is one of impartial open minded sceptisism.

      On the badger cull. I wonder if one of the things the anti cull campaigners really dread is if it works.

      It seems to me that we need a lot more investigation into if and why TB is becoming endemic in our wildlife. Surely it’s not just a problem for farming but also for wildlife.

      1. Giles – I think you are wrong on a few points there. The proper scientific stance is not one of impartial scepticism if the science points clearly in a particular direction. The proper scientific stance on whether the earth is flat is that it isn’t! Now i am not saying the the badger debate is as clear as that but your general point would lead all proper scientists to say ‘I’m not really sure’ about almost everything. And i think that rather too many scientists do that already. We need scientists to say what they think is true and give us some idea of how strongly they think it in order for scientific advice to be useful (and i speak as a trained scientists and one who used to ask for advice form scientists).

        The anti-cull campaigners should expect the badger cull to work – a bit. For it to work a bit in lots of places then tens of thousands of badgers will need to be culled.

        1. Precisely Mark

          Culling diseased sick badger communities WORKs 100%

          You will recall Thornbury – 100 sq miles – all badgers culled – 100% setts taken out and then some – RESULT – No TB in cattle for following 10 (TEN) years – Ask Ben Bradshaw – check out his reply in Parliament – provided by DEFRA from Owen Paterson question!

          Healthy Badgers returned thereafter

          Badger pop’n 1997 – 325,000 (est)

          Badger pop’n NOW – 650,000 – 1,000,000 (est)

          (this incidentally explains why you have fewer (and fewer) hedgehogs and many species of ground-nesting birds – lapwing etc)

          50% of badger cubs die at birth from TB

          Why not ask a scientist who knows the facts?

          Many hundreds of thousands of badgers need effective gassing in their setts – otherwise it will get (even) worse

          Standing up for Nature? – you surely are having a laugh!

          Left vs Right? No – it’s just recognising the TRUTH – something (non-political) scientists are supposed to do.

          PS When you left RSPB why mention that you are a Labour Party member?

        2. I agree the earth isn’t flat – it’s bumpy.

          In a sense scientists should have the attitude of not having absolute certainty about anything because there is not really such a thing as absolute scientific proof, at least in the way there is mathematical proof. However that doesn’t mean to say they shouldnt say they are sure. There is a distinction.

          Where talking about the flatness or otherwise of the earth that might be a sensible option however when discussing stuff like btb and badgers I think it’s ridiculous to make out that “the” science is conclusive either way.

          BTW have you ever read “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” ?

          1. Giles – I didn’t make out that the science was clear on badgers – although it isn’t that unclear either. I did suggest that your approach was wrong from the start and explained why.

            Yes I’ve read Thomas Kuhn’s excellent book (several times) but not for years. I did a course in History and Philosophy of Science at University for one year and enjoyed it very much.

  2. Let’s hope this bunch of jokers limit themselves to the harlequinade & a few simple pieces of buffoonery, before losing the next election & leaving the stage. Sickeningly, they still have time to do real damage & seem bent on doing so.

  3. Wow, Trimbush ! You have reached new heights in the ‘non science’ stakes – and if you want to hit the heights who better to have a go at than Lord Krebs FRS ?

    Don’t worry about the left wing loonies, though. As an ex civil servant I can tell you that all but the most foolish anti-cullers will back it to the hilt. There will be no better way to discredit the whole grubby business and most likely shed a a few more Ministers – I’d always expected Jim Paice to trip over a Badger rather than get knocked out by a tree (another nasty left wing lot, those FC people – a crime compounded by making themselves popular across the political spectrum by quietly getting on and giving people want they want, and cheaply).

    What, however, is so sad is that we face yet another lengthy period while the whole Badger thing unravels, yet another big delay between Government & farmers really getting stuck into the causes of TB – and the potential solutions.

    1. Roderick

      You will recall no doubt that Krebs is the son of Nobel prize winner Krebs who discovered the Tricarboxylic Acid Cycle (TCA) otherwise referred to as the Krebs Cycle – The son Krebs is my most disappointing ‘scientist’ and the father Krebs – strangely – and by pure chance – is my favourite!

      Krebs (son) wrote his report re Badgers & TB – and in it he states – quite accurately – the findings of the Thornbury exercise – he even refers to Perturbation – you should read it!

      Following much discussion (six months) with incoming New Labour regime (1997) he compromises (in its true sense) and agrees to the Trials – thus kicking the whole situation into the long grass – whilst New labour ceases culling sick badgers immediately on gaining office – and the slaughter of diseased cattle grows exponentially.

      Krebs state that ALL (100%) badgers in the Proactive areas must be killed – Prof Bourne achieves between 25% and 75%. The pro-badger lot destroy almost £500,000 of cages / traps and ship out diseased caged badgers from the proactive areas to just outside those areas and then return to repeat the trip – that’s perturbation for you!

      Prof Bourne publishes his ‘findings’ provided by his masters – the politicians – but Krebsy – surprise, surprise – fails to state that the Trials were not fit for purpose for oh so many reasons …..

      Having joined the Labour gravy train what else could he do?

      His father has no doubt turned several times in his grave.

      What would you do? Lord Krebs FRS is a disgrace!

  4. Whoever is right it is a pity like everything else nothing gets done for years or even decades.
    Meanwhile,Badgers,Cattle and farmers,all three of which I have huge sympathy with all suffer in differing ways to BTB,probably with the delay other wildlife may be infected and spreading the disease.

    1. Dennis – I tend to agree about the need for quicker decision-making. Sometimes wick wrong decisions are better than no decision. Of course, quick right decisions are even better.

  5. THE BADGER TRUST announced recently (July 19) that it will seek permission to appeal the recent court decision – the trust said it had not taken the decision lightly.

    “It underlines the trust’s strong belief that the Government’s proposals to kill badgers in England are likely to do more harm than good,” the trust said, claiming that, despite the judge’s ruling, the science still showed ‘culling badgers can make no meaningful contribution to the eradication of bovine TB in Britain’.

    Those weasel words, contained in the ISG Final Report, were not born out by its author’s oral evidence to the EFRA committee.

    This is what Professor John Bourne actually said, not what was written for him:.

    “Let us go back to 1999 when we started our work. It was made very clear to us by ministers of the day – and they have not refuted it since – that elimination of badgers over large tracts of countryside was not an option for future policy”.


    “We repeatedly say “culling, as conducted in the trial.” It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians.”

    and finally:

    “Whatever has driven that I do not know [Maybe the £1,250,000 donations to Labour by IFAW? -Trimbush) but the fact is that a price has been put on the badger in this country which related to the way we were able to carry out our scientific work. That is exactly what we report”.

    “Culling, as conducted in this trial, can make no meaningful contribution to the eradication on bovine TB in Britain” is much more sensible that this oft quoted truncated version. But the man knew this at the beginning, he said he did and he geared his trial protocol to achieving it.

    Krebs Trials? Not scientific – not fit for purpose!

    1. Should we call it the Political Animal Lobby (PAL) – which got a “massive loan” from IFAW (which is not a charity incidentally – and ‘gave’ its founder some £2 M when he ‘retired’)

      Was the loan ever fully paid back?

      PAL donated £1 Million to Labour followed by a second tranche of some £250,000 to further encourage New Labour to ban hunting.

      Not to mention the ‘sponsoring’ of Labour MPs ‘Lord Tony’ and the Labour MP and DEFRA minister (?) who was recently released from jail – who famously claimed that his Rolex watch was stolen in from him whilst he was in prison! Ho hum !

      I am – incidentally – ashamed to admit that the Tories accepted some £70 k (Lib Dems – a little less) at the time Labour accepted the £1 M bribe.

      You can buy a whole Political Party for not a lot these days – as the Unions are currently demonstrating.

      1. That to me is quite right and proper. It was founded as the party of organised labour and still should be.

  6. I’m pretty sure the mioney he refers to was given by an unbrella organsiation but derived from rspca ifaw and lacs because charities cannot donate to political partys

  7. I rather liked Jim Paice and found his departure a tad depressing. A rather decent cove who, unusually for any one in UK government, actually knew something about his subject – apart from the retail price of a pint of milk.

    The new mugshots are already on the wall in Nobel House.

    Anyway, according to Guido, “Arise, Sir James” will soon be heard.

  8. “apart from the retail price of a pint of milk” Being the farnming minister he may well have known the farm gate price of milk though and I’d wager the questioner didn’t.

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