Eats, shoots and leaves – Owen Paterson

By Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs  via Wikimedia Commons
By Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs via Wikimedia Commons

When the news of Owen Paterson’s sacking from the Cabinet was announced there was great cheering above and below ground by badgers and friends of badgers alike.  It’s unseemly to take pleasure in another’s misfortune but…

His term of office at Defra was short and undistinguished – 22 months dominated by floods (where he spoke some sense but looked foolish and by then no-one was really listening to him), neonicotinoids (where he put the UK in an isolated position against most of the rest of Europe), ash die-back (which was hardly his fault), nonsense about biodiversity off-setting  (where Paterson put his foot so deeply into his own mouth that he swallowed it) and badgers where he failed to implement his own preferred policy of mass culling.  When pilot culls failed to meet their targets, Paterson explained that the badgers had moved the goalposts and ever since has been a figure of fun in the land.

Paterson is a classic example of the danger of sticking someone in a job just because the PM feels he represents some views in the party – Paterson wasn’t up to the job and he didn’t do it very well.  If he had been more effective, the environment would now be even more damaged.

Under him, and I’m afraid to say under Caroline Spelman too (whom I respect much more), Defra’s stock has fallen in government circles. It is now a very small department which seems to appear in the news only when something goes wrong.  Don’t be surprised to see Defra sliced up if the Tories get back into ‘power’ again.

The NFU did not seem to mourn Paterson’s departure but welcomed his successor Liz Truss and pointed out that she is 38 years old (Owen Paterson is 58 but that wasn’t mentioned).

The CLA shows a touch more class about the ‘hand-over’, with their President Henry Robinson saying:

The whole of rural England and Wales will be looking to Liz Truss to set an agenda which will assure the future of a living and working countryside. It is vital that the countryside and the businesses based there are not disadvantaged by legislation which is predominantly urban focused.  We hope she wastes no time in grasping the nettle on the key issues for food and farming and presents a bold vision for our industry.  We would like to see her continue the good policy work started under her predecessor particularly in areas such as animal and plant health and flood management.” Really? even the Welsh Assembly Government? Maybe.

The CLA President said Ms Truss would bring undoubted qualities to the job – but he also paid tribute to outgoing Environment Secretary Owen Paterson thus:

Mr Paterson served with great integrity. He operated in a tough climate, and took some difficult decisions. His door has been open to the CLA and he has listened to our views.  We thank him for the good work he has done during his term as Environment Secretary and we look forward to working equally constructively with the new Secretary of State. [That can’t be a tough and changing climate because Paterson isn’t too sure about that].

That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, is it? The fact that the CLA can’t actually name anything that Paterson was good at (there is so much to choose from?) says it all.

Photo: Policy Exchange via wikimedia commons
Photo: Policy exchange via wikimedia commons

But what of Liz Truss? No, she isn’t the author of the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which in any case sounds more like the obituary for Paterson’s time in office, but is, rather, the MP for Southwest Norfolk.

Ms Truss says:

“I look forward to tackling the important issues facing our rural communities including championing British food, protecting people from flooding and improving the environment.”

Well, that’s not a bad start – more mentions than the environment has got recently from Defra.  We’ll see…

We will see, but Ms Truss has very little time to make any sort of impact.  There are 295 days until the next general election. Let’s say 40 of those are spent campaigning.  250 days to make a difference – 250 days to rebuild some confidence in Tory environmental policy – 250 days to keep out of trouble?  Tough job.

Other news: Ken Clarke hasn’t been a very obvious force for environmental good in the Cabinet (except for being a conspicuous pro-European which almost does it on its own) but who are we to know what influence he may have had behind the scenes?  He now has more time to spend twitching this autumn – I hope he sees some good birds as he is the type of cantankerous, thoughtful and outspoken politician that I like (regardless of political party).

Greg Barker will be missed as a Tory who completely gets climate change – a rare bird, indeed.

William Hague has been a force for good, again on climate change.  Since David Miliband became Foreign Secretary in June 2007 – over 7 years – we have had a climate change-aware Foreign Secretary – that has to be a good thing.  See this speech he made, and which I highlighted in my blog when still at RSPB, in September 2010.

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20 Replies to “Eats, shoots and leaves – Owen Paterson”

  1. You nicked the idea for this from @shot_fox - a reference would be expected from an academic such as you Mark!

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    1. Giles - I did not nick it from anyone. It is quite possible for two people to have the same idea.

      Is shot fox one of your many Twitter pseudonyms by any chance?

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      1. mmm I'll let you off then 😛 but I don't have any twitter pseudonyms - unlike you who has at least one 🙂

        Which twitter accounts do you think I am?

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  2. I would not hold out too much hope Mark, wasn't she a commercial manager at Shell in a previous job?

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    1. At last, I got a reaction! More dislikes than likes. Seriously though, I am surprised that no one has taken up this baton. After all it is not insignificant given one of my young (female) friends on Facebook picked up quickly enough to have me Googling the facts. Then again perhaps the Tories want to move away from people with a pre-determined agenda...erm...hang on a minute!

      BTW, I am trying to be calm here because a story shared by the BTO on Facebook really has got me wanting blood. I will leave it here but I would not be surprised if Mark picks this one up.

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  3. Liz who? I asked myself when I saw the name anyroad it turns out she is a bit numerate and representing a Norfolk constituency should be able to spot a turkey when she sees one so she might be able to dismantle some policies that don't add up and make Dopey Davey cry.

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  4. No doubt you are being politic in reserving judgement Mark, but although I whooped with joy to hear of Owen being culled, a quick bit of research into Liz Truss has not filled me with renewed hope for the fate of the British environment. She seems primarily concerned with "food security" (whatever that is) and is seemingly scornful of climate change mitigation and other green crap.

    http://www.fwi.co.uk/articles/15/07/2014/145552/liz-truss-appointed-as-new-defra-secretary.htm

    http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2014/07/15/liz-truss-a-not-very-green-environment-secretary

    So Patterson in a skirt it seems...

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  5. I also found myself asking Liz who?

    I was directed to the following article from her Wikipedia page:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/9517706/We-must-shift-science-out-of-the-geek-ghetto.html

    Although there is perhaps too much emphasis on economics for my liking, it is still refreshing to see a Defra SoS with an appreciation for science.

    I’m heartened that so far I haven't come across any statements she has made proclaiming her expertise on subjects that fall under the remit of her new Dept.
    Paterson for instance boldly proclaimed on his own website that he was an expert in bovine TB! I suspect he also thought he was an expert of climate change as well.

    Hopefully she will be the type of Minister that listens to the experts and acts on their advice, rather then her own pre-conceived ideaologies – time will tell.

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    1. "listens to the experts"

      Expert - an opinionated person well-qualified to make errors within a narrow field of knowledge.

      Sycophantic experts will have most influence, it has emerged.

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        1. "If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. […] the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognise what a right answer is."

          - David Dunning

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  6. Mark, this is the best news I have heard all day. What a great pity the rest of Owen Paterson’s government colleagues, including the PM, could not follow his example.

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  7. All,

    I very much doubt that Liz Truss will make any impact at all. The reshuffle was entirely political; aimed at convincing the would-be voter/ UKIP voter/ anyone that the Tory party is non-toxic and representative of all incomes, aspirations and gender. Hence, the removal of Michael Gove, a seemingly close ally of DC from the Dept of Education. [Though as an aside, it is a bold or foolish move to place someone who was in a position to annoy a small sector of society in to a position where they can annoy a wider audience...]

    And remember, it was about this stage before the 2010 election that DC was cuddling hoodies, cuddling dogs, de-toxifying the Nasty Party and proclaiming they'd be the greenest Government ever. He's at it again; I didn't trust him then; I trust him less now. Whatever the outcome of the 2015 election, Liz Truss will not be in post. It wouldn't surprise me if the Tories won outright that Owen Patterson would be reinstated. After all, David Cameron loves to give folk a second chance...

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    1. Dave - that's not v surprising - it was in the Tory manifesto so it was an election promise.

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  8. Excellent news OP has gone - never come across anyone who was such a walking disaster in his job. The 2nd phase of the badger cull has yet to be cancelled - I'm not counting my chickens. Who pulls the strings on these puppets? Good to hear the CLA/NFU were happy that OP's door was always open to them - they must have been occupying it permanently as no one else got a look in. Indeed once Defra said that they considered the NFU as a part of Defra when dealing with Btb.

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  9. Under this Government Defra has rapidly reverted to being MAFF. Nothing is ever heard from the ex-DOE side. I can't see Liz Truss having much impact in 10 months. Her life journey from lefty family background to Lib Dem at Uni to Tory Minister doesn't give me that much confidence that she's any more than another wannabe.

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  10. The CLA President's expressed view is astonishing. Paterson had no integrity - he simply agreed with his friends. A government minister who does only that is corrupt and anti-democratic. He was a disgrace, whatever the substance of his decisions.

    Liz Truss can only do better but I fear for the circumstances. Her brief will be to be nice and avoid controversy. In her role, that's difficult but broadly it will not mean support for the environment.

    So it will be especially important to flag important but difficult issues so that she has to make public choices on them. PR should not be allowed to dominate.

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