So, why do you want to be Secretary of State for DEFRA?

The strong rumours are that we will see a new Secretary of State at DEFRA very soon after a ‘We’re pretending that we’ve done Brexit’ reshuffle. If so, we’ll never know what Theresa Villiers might have done because she hasn’t done much of note so far except make an awful speech at the Oxford Farming Conference.

This is a time when even the least Tory-leaning of us might regret (I do) the failure of Zac Goldsmith to hold on to his seat at Richmond Park because he really would have been in the frame for the top DEFRA job if only he had a seat in the House of Commons. As it is, the absence of talent in the Conservative Party on environmental matters is probably giving Johnson some difficulties. Zac might still get the job (but I fear it is unlikely) but rumour has it that a woman with some limited environmental credentials is the front runner.

You don’t apply for a cabinet position (you may lobby for one but it’s not a job for which you apply) and you don’t get interviewed for such jobs either (certainly not to judge your competence in any way) so the following is entirely imaginary.

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Thank you for coming in to see us. We have a few questions for you but since we realise that many applicants come from non-rural, non-scientific backgrounds then we’re giving you multiple choice options. Is that alright? Great, let’s get going.

Question 1: why do you want to be Environment Secretary?

  1. I’ll accept any job, however dull, just to be in the Cabinet.
  2. I didn’t even know this was an interview for Environment Secretary – why am I here?
  3. I’ve been a passionate environmentalist all my life and want this government to do great things for wildlife and the climate whether it’s popular with the NFU, CBI, the voters or not.

Question 2: what are your qualifications for this role?

  1. Let’s be honest – none whatsoever, but I’ve heard that doesn’t really matter. Anyway, I’m quite keen to be Defence Secretary really as that’s a proper job.
  2. I’m very loyal and will do whatever the PM wants.
  3. I have a degree in science, I’ve been a member of the EFRA and EA Committees for several years, I’m the patron of several wildlife charities and I’ve written books on the environmental crisis.

Question 3: are you a land owner?

  1. Yes – I own vast acres.
  2. No, but I have a lot of friends who are and I listen very carefully to what they say.
  3. No.

Question 4: do you shoot? Hunt?

  1. Of course, and all my friends do too.
  2. I could learn (or pretend)
  3. No.

Question 5: what policy mechanisms do you think are most important for DEFRA to use?

  1. How do you mean? As few as possible – it’s all red tape anyway, most of which comes from the EU and we’ll soon be shot of that. I’ve always favoured a combination of promoting the voluntary approach and wilful blindness when it fails completely.
  2. Errrr, don’t we just ask the NFU and do what they say?
  3. Regulation, increased taxes on environmental harm, providing public money for public goods, enforcing the existing laws – that sort of thing.

Question 6: what are your views on climate change?

  1. I’ve studied it carefully and there are things to be said on both sides. We mustn’t be rushed into economy-hurting action just because of a bit of environmental scare-mongering. Planting trees makes good photo opportunites though.
  2. I’m pretty much with our friend The Donald on that one.
  3. It’s a bad thing, we must take more action – we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Question 7: meat in the diet – good or bad?

  1. The more the better, and exporting it all around the world is even better.
  2. I like my steaks rare. What does the NFU say – they must know a lot about this.
  3. I’ve cut down my meat consumption a lot. That’s what we should encourage. I’ll be asking Johnson to promote meat-free Mondays as a prime Prime Ministerial campaign.

Question 8: Badgers?

  1. I once saw a Badger – nasty looking thing. Kill ’em all.
  2. A farmer told me that we must kill ’em all. Sounds sensible to me – they’d know.
  3. Better testing, stronger movement controls of livestock, better on-farm biosecurity, vaccination of cattle and badgers.

Question 9: which environmental NGOs can you name?

  1. BASC, Countryside Alliance, GWCT, Moorland Association – that pretty much covers the country I think.
  2. NFU, CLA – that pretty much covers the country I think.
  3. Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, Buglife, Plantlife, Greenpeace, FoE and Wild Justice.

Question 10: which former Environment Secretary do you admire most?

  1. Liz Truss – her speech on cheese was very moving. I still well up.
  2. Owen Paterson – he had two Badgers as pets and was a real countryman.
  3. John Gummer and Caroline Spelman from our party and Hilary Benn and David Miliband from the other lot.

Thank you so much for popping along for this chat, I’m so glad you avoided Answer 3 in all cases, we’ll put you on the short list.

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12 Replies to “So, why do you want to be Secretary of State for DEFRA?”

      1. Do we really want an unelected, failed politician as SoS? Zac Goldsmith appears to be a committed environmentalist but then so are many others. But perhaps the others lack the essential qualifications: an old Etonian and a chum of the PM.

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  1. If they are thinking of changing out Ms Villiers then please God she is replaced by a competent, far sighted, intelegent, individual willing to stand against the vested interests of the Tory Party such as driven grouse shooting. That of course is asking an awful lot because I would be surprised if there is any one of these qualifications among the Tory MPs. We are certainly due for a competent DEFRA minister after having had Truss, Leadsom, and Paterson what an awful trio, though Gove and Spelman were quite reasonable.

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  2. 'This is a time when even the least Tory-leaning of us might regret (I do) the failure of Zac Goldsmith to hold on to his seat at Richmond Park'

    ###
    Have a word with yourself.

    His campaign for London Mayor exposed him as an obnoxious racist.

    He should be nowhere near public office.

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  3. Farce should now be the language used to describe this shambles. But then again, does it work? 20 years of lefty leaning radio 4 comedy on prime time has done little. What is left? Science? Logic? Calm thinking? I think we are simply becoming, and will become more 'base' as we approach doomsday. Will anyone have time to write the book? This is maybe why Putin and others are describing democracy as a dead philosophy (but perhaps not for the preservation of the planet, but a benign dictator I feel would do a far better job!)

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  4. Remember that lovely Thérèse Coffey.

    On 27 January, Labour MP Zarah Sultana called foodbanks “a national scandal”. She asked Coffey:
    'There are more food banks in Britain than there are McDonald’s restaurants—a company that I know recently paid off its fired British boss with roughly £30 million. Does the Minister accept that it is a gross injustice that nurses are forced to use food banks while fat-cat bosses receive obscene pay-outs?'

    Thérèse Coffey replied
    'I visited a similar food bank in my own constituency that has been working together with food redistribution schemes. Marrying the two is a perfect way to try to address the challenges that people face at difficult times in their lives.'

    She went further, calling people forced to use foodbanks “customers”.

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      1. I really don't get your "love in" with Zac Goldsmith! Exactly what has he said and more importantly done that makes his environmental credentials "good" in your eyes?

        If its opposing the third runway at Heathrow, then that wasn't that simply political self interest?

        He has not either as a politician or a an individual shown any signs of understanding what is required and despite apparently being a "warm, cuddly Tory" he is a member political establishment that contributed to our current situation.

        I would also point out his Father was one of the forces which led to the Brexit referendum.

        Finally, how much do you actually think an individual's personal views impact on how they deliver their brief as a Minister? They are generally on message delivering what the Government of the day wants. So in most cases their competence or personal views are irrelevant to what they do as a Minister.

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        1. Matthew - fair questions and points apart from the bad start with the love in remark.

          It's not just opposing the third runway at Heathrow but he did oppose it and he did resign when the government, of which he was not then a member, decided to go ahead. That is a rare act of principle for any politician, particularly one in a marginal seat - so marginal he lost it this time round.

          His Dad seemed pretty awful to me too - but I know nothing about your Dad and you know nothing about mine. Do we need full Dad-disclosure and full responsibility for one's parents before an individual is OK? Btw - I have a lot more time for Stanley Johnson than Boris of that Ilk but that doesn't affect my view of Boris.

          You need to look at Zac's performance on the Environmental Audit Committee for a start - and contrast it with other Tories, and indeed many other MPs there.

          Were you at the environmental hustings in Kingston during the general election? I was https://markavery.info/2019/11/21/election-watch-4-the-number-65-bus/

          And Zac has supported the end of moorland burning, as a minister, which is quite impressive and needs to be followed through. I would have thought that the DEFRA minister responding to the ban driven grouse shooting e-petition might want to say something on that matter - it would be very odd if they didn't now that a ministerial colleague has opined. I could go on, but I won't...

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