A couple of days ago I suggested that the recent Defra minister Richard Benyon might be called a ‘toff’. This was greeted by a stream of comments angry on the toffish ex-Minister’s behalf. Let’s just get the meaning of this four-letter word out of the way first.
Wikipedia suggests that it is a mildly derogatory term for someone with an aristocratic background or belonging to the landed gentry.
It would be quite difficult to persuade me that Richard Benyon is not a ‘toff’ and yes it was meant to be mildly derogatory. I’m confident that I have published more strongly derogatory remarks about myself here so I don’t feel too bad about it.
I’m sure that those getting on their high horses on Mr Benyon’s behalf were partly doing so because they wished to distract from his very ‘toffish’ Ministerial record. Richard Benyon is a land-owning, game-shooting toff who:
- opposed vicarious liability being introduced for wildlife crime (although it already exists in Scotland)
- was the Minister for biodiversity when his department wanted to start research on culling buzzards because they eat a pheasant now and again
- was the Minister when Natural England refused to make public the final resting places of satellite-tagged hen harriers – we will, I predict, find that many died on or very near grouse moors (Mr Benyon owns a grouse moor)
- was the Minister in charge when NE dropped their legal case about Walshaw Moor, a grouse moor
- presided over the almost terminal decline of hen harriers in England
- was happy to review the licensing of cormorants because they eat fish (Mr Benyon is a fisherman)
- refused to proscribe carbofuran (as it already is in Scotland)
On the other hand, Mr Benyon also:
- maintained Defra’s contribution to the National Wildlife Crime Unit.
Please suggest other matters of particular interest to toffs and whether Mr Benyon chose the ‘toffish’ route or ‘the route less-toffish’.
Ministers, and I mean Conservative Ministers, of a different, less ‘toffish’ background might well have made a different mix of decisions on these issues. These were all decisions, or events (for we do not know what role the Minister might have played in all of them), which would have been welcomed by the Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association and Country Landowners’ Association. They were not decisions made on behalf of the natural world, they were those most wanted by the ‘toffish’ world.
Wouldn’t it be good if a Labour Minister came into Defra and, by chance of course, was associated with decisions every bit as one-sided after the next general election. Except it is very difficult to see a potential Labour Minister who would roll things back in the other direction.
I’ve been trying to think of the most ‘toffish’ Labour politician – I guess it would have to be Hilary Benn. Lovely man, just like Richard Benyon.