In the theatre, as in politics, there are two kinds of understudy. Some become overnight stars by running away with the part when the leading actor is ill – Anthony Hopkins, Shirley MacLaine, Gordon Brown standing in as shadow Chancellor for John Smith. Others win the audience’s sympathy simply by getting through the show – even if the spectators feel slightly cheated after paying to see the big name.
Dan Rogerson, the mildly owlish junior Environment minister, falls into the second category. Substituting for Owen Paterson (matinee idol or pantomime villain depending on how green you are) he survived ministerial questions without major incident – even if he fluffed his lines at one point by saying “millions” instead of “billions”, unfortunately when describing the “money no object” largesse the Coalition is so proud of lavishing on flood defences.
But as a Liberal Democrat he doesn’t provoke the same pleasurable outrage among his opponents as Paterson’s more cavalier attitude to greenery. When the Tory Tim Yeo firmly laid the blame for “the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events” on climate change, Rogerson agreed.
So much so that he came about as near as this gentle minister ever comes to slapping someone down, in this case the sceptical Tory backbencher Philip Hollobone, apparently thrilled to have discovered an alternative explanation – “the jet stream”. Observing with just the merest hint of sarcasm that the MP was “clearly spending a great deal of time studying these methods”, he said that “all the signs were” that movements in the jet stream were themselves “influenced by climate change”. And then slightly spoilt it by adding that this was why “more precipitation has been deposited”. (Raising the exciting possibility of translating – say – Shakespeare’s “The rain it raineth every day” into the only slightly less catchy “Precipitation is being deposited on an ongoing 24/7 basis.”)
He used another euphemism in answer to the virulently anti-HS2 Tory Cheryl Gillan’s question on when the Government would respond to estimates that the project would “totally destroy” 40 ancient woodlands. The MP was a “doughty campaigner” on the issue, he said. In fact, habitually in her place at the back of the chamber, she increasingly resembles a tricoteuse (ominously scribbling on a thick sheaf of papers rather than knitting like her French revolutionary counterparts) as she eagerly awaits the public execution of the great train project.
So although flooding dominated the session, it was not the only topic. Bovine TB has not gone away despite the culling. Rogerson’s Tory colleague George Eustice revealed the Government was now considering “badger contraception” as a means of tackling the problem. Frustratingly, he did not go into detail.