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.
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?
- I’ll accept any job, however dull, just to be in the Cabinet.
- I didn’t even know this was an interview for Environment Secretary – why am I here?
- 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?
- 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.
- I’m very loyal and will do whatever the PM wants.
- 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?
- Yes – I own vast acres.
- No, but I have a lot of friends who are and I listen very carefully to what they say.
Question 4: do you shoot? Hunt?
- Of course, and all my friends do too.
- I could learn (or pretend)
Question 5: what policy mechanisms do you think are most important for DEFRA to use?
- 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.
- Errrr, don’t we just ask the NFU and do what they say?
- 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?
- 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.
- I’m pretty much with our friend The Donald on that one.
- 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?
- The more the better, and exporting it all around the world is even better.
- I like my steaks rare. What does the NFU say – they must know a lot about this.
- 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?
- I once saw a Badger – nasty looking thing. Kill ’em all.
- A farmer told me that we must kill ’em all. Sounds sensible to me – they’d know.
- Better testing, stronger movement controls of livestock, better on-farm biosecurity, vaccination of cattle and badgers.
Question 9: which environmental NGOs can you name?
- BASC, Countryside Alliance, GWCT, Moorland Association – that pretty much covers the country I think.
- NFU, CLA – that pretty much covers the country I think.
- Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, Buglife, Plantlife, Greenpeace, FoE and Wild Justice.
Question 10: which former Environment Secretary do you admire most?
- Liz Truss – her speech on cheese was very moving. I still well up.
- Owen Paterson – he had two Badgers as pets and was a real countryman.
- 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.