Former Conservative MP for Uxbridge (1997 by-election until 2010), and then for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (until 2015), Sir John Randall is a birder and trustee of the RSPB – although he has just had to resign after being made the Number 10 Policy Unit’s Special Advisor on the environment.
John was a parliamentarian with whom I worked when at the RSPB and who worked closely with the RSPB and WWF and others when he was at the top of the Private Members’ Ballot in 2001 and decided to introduce a bill for better protection of wildlife at sea (see Fighting for Birds pp 223-24). John’s Private Member’s Bill reached its third reading but was stymied in the Lords by Tory peers – of all people! It did, however, lay the foundations for the Marine and Coastal Access Act of 2009.
John became a Deputy Chief Whip in the coalition government and probably knows more MPs’ secrets than almost anyone else. He stood down from parliament in 2015 and the current occupant of his seat is someone called Boris Johnson. Sir John has been mentioned in this blog a few times: Done their time, 7 May 2015; Malta massacre discussed in parliament thanks to Sir John Randall, 12 May 2014; Arise Sir John, 16 January 2014.
His appointment as the Number 10 Policy Unit’s Special Advisor on the environment is a good thing for wildlife, and for the PM, although the RSPB loses a trustee as a result. Sir John is well-liked and well-trusted among MPs of all parties but particularly among many sitting Conservative MPs who have known him for a long time and seen him operate in his own quiet and sensible way. Let’s hope John can encourage Michael Gove to live up to his fine words.
It remains to be seen how long the PM will last, how much influence Sir John might have and whether this move means anything at all – but it should. If Sir John had been in post at the time of the writing of the awful Conservative manifesto earlier this spring then surely it would not have included anything on fox hunting and would have said something more meaningful on wildlife as a whole. But that moment has gone and increasingly it looks like a ‘nearly’ moment. On the issue of driven grouse shooting I am sure that Sir John would not be in favour of a ban, but he might be persuaded that licensing is a sensible approach to deal with the high levels of environmental damage, wildlife crime and an intransigent industry.
Conservative wildlife policy might well be getting back into the centre ground with the appointment and fine words of Michael Gove and this new appointment. I don’t mind which party does good things for wildlife. We still await Labour to get its act together in this area.