Diary: Owen Paterson gets badgered for a little more information

The new Environment Secretary is almost messianic in his enthusiasm for slaughtering badgers.

As gunmen prepare to slaughter the badgers of West Gloucestershire, after the government’s triumph in seeing off a legal challenge from the Badger Trust, the recently appointed Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has revealed a special affinity for the animals. “I can guarantee to you that I am the only MP who has had two pet badgers,” he tells the current issue of Farmer’s Weekly.

Note his use of the past tense. He has had two badgers; he has them no more. This left information hungry hacks gagging to know the badgers’ names, when and for how long they were in Mr Paterson’s care, and their eventual fate.

We can only hope that he did not cull them, because the Environment Secretary is almost messianic in his enthusiasm for slaughtering badgers. He boasts that when Labour was in power and he was opposition spokesman on agriculture, he asked more than 600 questions about bovine TB. It is to prevent the spread of this disease to cattle that the badgers must die.

Before Paterson, the last politician to claim to a close interest in badgers was the former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, who, when asked what he was doing in woodland near Bath in March 2003, replied that he was badger watching. Not everyone believed him.

Further back, there was Arthur Gore, the 8 Earl of Arran, who died in 1983, who courageously sponsored the 1967 bill that decriminalised homosexuality, and a bill to protect badgers. He is reputed to have complained to a friend: "When I spoke about badgers, no one turned up; but when I spoke about buggers, the place was packed.''

To which his friend is said to have replied: "Has it never occurred to you, Boofy, that there are very few badgers in the House of Lords?”  

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Two feisty female defenders of the sanctity of marriage are in the news this week. The former Home Office minister, Ann Widdecombe, who retired from the Commons in 2010, is billed to be a star speaker at the Coalition for Marriage rally in Birmingham on the Monday of Conservative Party Conference.

And the Green Party has confirmed that they have expelled 50 year old Christina Summers, a Brighton councillor, for her persistent opposition to gay marriage. In July, she was the only councillor to oppose a motion welcoming the government’s decision to let gay couples marry. "When you touch marriage, you're touching family and you're hitting at the very heart of God and I have an enormous problem with that," she said.

Something these battling champions of marriage have in common is that neither is married.

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Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, must have begun to regret the day when he stood up in the European Parliament and described the EU president, Herman van Rompuy, as having "all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk". His appeal against a 2,980 euro fine, the equivalent of 10 day’s pay, was rejected yesterday in the European Court of Justice. He believes the penalty is an attack on free speech.

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Nigel Sheinwald, former Ambassador to the USA, who retired in March, has a new job as senior adviser to the chairman and executives of Universal Music Group, which manages Lady Gaga, Elton John, Kanye West and many more. Sheinwald was put through his paces as a junior official in the Washington embassy 27 years ago, when he was assigned to keep in touch with Mark Thatcher. The Prime Minister’s son was living in Dallas, expecting round the clock protection, while refusing to keep harassed embassy staff informed of his movements. Sheinwald tried manfully to contact him every few days for several months, but failed. In the end, Mum had to step in. After that early experience, dealing with the inflated egos of superstars should be a doddle.

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