Environment: ‘It couldn’t get any worse’
The sacking of the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, was greeted with widespread relief today as he ended a 22-month tenure that campaigners, rival politicians and scientists alike felt had been “shambolic”.
Aside from the persistent signs that he was a climate sceptic, experts criticised Mr Paterson for driving through an unsuccessful badger cull despite repeated warnings that it would not work, or might even be counterproductive.
The Tory MP for North Shropshire, who famously accused the badgers of “moving the goalposts” last year after miscalculating their population, was also criticised for lobbying hard but unsuccessfully against a Europe-wide ban on some nerve-agent pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Since that campaign was lost, the body of evidence has mounted further that the pesticides are linked to declining bee, worm and farm bird populations.
While in office, Mr Paterson also slashed spending on flood defences, as part of a near-50 per cent cut in the UK’s budget to adapt to climate change, just before the wettest winter on record caused heavy flooding in southern England at the start of the year.
“David Cameron is right to give Owen Paterson the boot – he’s the worst Environment Secretary the UK has had for decades,” said Andy Atkins, the executive director of Friends of the Earth.
But the National Farmers’ Union paid tribute to the former minister for “his hard work and dedication to farming and agriculture”.
The promotion of Liz Truss, the Education minister, to replace Mr Paterson was welcomed. “We should see a more coherent approach to the environment than the embarrassing shambles of the last few years,” said Greenpeace. “Common sense and the laws of probability dictate that Liz Truss will be better than Owen Paterson. She starts with a clean slate and we wish her well.”
But Ms Truss, 38, remains a little-known quantity when it comes to environmental issues. Adviocates for the Tory MP for South West Norfolk point out that she is not a climate sceptic and has championed small-scale solar installations at schools.
But she has also raised fears among some campaigners because of her opposition to larger solar installations and her backing of the Government’s unsuccessful attempt to sell off public forests.
Foreign affairs: A delight for the right
The new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, is an arch-Eurosceptic who has said he could support Britain pulling out of the 28-member bloc.His promotion will delight Tory right-wingers who had accused William Hague of “going native” during his four years of dealings with the European Union.
Mr Hammond is regarded as long-shot candidate for the Tory leadership and has been tipped for a job swap with Chancellor George Osborne if the party wins the general election in May 2015.
Last year, he burnished his Eurosceptic credentials by saying he would vote for a British exit if a referendum was held tomorrow. But he stressed that David Cameron should first be given the opportunity to try to wrest powers back from Brussels.Now Mr Hammond will play a central role in talks within the EU over the future terms of British membership.
He played down suggestions that he would adopt a stridently Eurosceptic approach to the discussions, saying: “I don’t think the way to enter a negotiation is to start issuing threats. The way to enter a negotiation is to look for the areas where we do agree. There are many issues where Britain is not isolated.”
Defence: Man ‘on the way out’ is back in
The elevation of 62-year-old Michael Fallon to the Cabinet table came as a surprise in Westminster circles – not least to the new Defence Secretary himself.
Mr Fallon’s ministerial career stretches back to the 1980s, when he was appointed to the Government benches by Margaret Thatcher.
He has been a stalwart servant of the Cameron administration, most recently in two departments headed by Liberal Democrats. He had combined the roles of Business minister under Vince Cable and Energy minister under Ed Davey.
As well as flying the Tory flag in the departments, Mr Fallon, the MP for Sevenoaks, is highly rated for his authoritative television manner. However, it was widely assumed his time in office was coming to an end as Mr Cameron looked to give his team a younger, more female-friendly complexion.
As a result, his name began being floated as Britain’s next European Commissioner.
Instead the Sevenoaks MP, a devoted Thatcherite, has been handed authority over the Ministry of Defence.
His business background will bring a sharp edge to efforts to bring the notoriously profligate department’s procurement spending under control. His promotion might also be seen as a signal to veteran Tories not to lose hope once younger colleagues starting landing plum ministerial jobs.
Wales: Beard is no bar to high office
Stephen Crabb, the new Welsh Secretary, ends more than a century of top-level Tory pogonophobia. The last bearded Conservative minister was the fourth Earl of Onslow, who was president of the Board of Agriculture, the Conservative History Group revealed today.
Mr Crabb, 41, the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, was previously a junior minister. Mr Cameron also had a bearded deputy chief whip in John Randall until last year.
Previous Labour administrations saw a number of bearded ministers.