What some people seem to forget is that Owen Paterson wasn’t (and Liz Truss isn’t) just Environment Secretary. As well as having responsibility for the environment, the role also covers food, fisheries and rural affairs. Paterson was one of the few people in Government that many farmers thought of as being ‘on their side’. As Secretary of State at Defra, he always appeared to have the interests of the rural community and the countryside at the centre of his decisions.
As Melissa Kite argues in her cover piece this week, Cameron appears to have given in to ‘the animal rights lot’. As she rightly says, ‘They wanted Owen Paterson’s head on a platter and Cameron has given it to them.’ Friends of the Earth’s Andy Atkins has already been quoted as saying that ‘David Cameron is right to give Owen Paterson the boot – he’s the worst Environment Secretary the UK has had for decades,’ and it’s no surprise that they’re pleased he’s gone.
Will Liz Truss be a minister in the Paterson mould or will she side more with the green lobby? Her past form would suggest the former. Although she doesn’t appear to have a rural background, her constituency of South West Norfolk is most certainly a rural one, and she seems keen to fight for her constituents. Her website has previously stated that:
‘Elizabeth has a number of concerns about the use of agricultural land for solar or biomass plants and the subsidies for these operations…She does not want to see the UK’s food security jeopardised; food and farming is the largest manufacturing industry in the UK and she is keen to see that the importance of this sector is recognised.’
She has twice voted in favour of the pilot badgers cull — one of Paterson’s most controversial decisions in the role. And she has also been a firm supporter of a third runway at Heathrow, something that environmentalists, including Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, are staunchly against.
Many of her previous stances on both the environment and rural policy have been focused on addressing the concerns of her constituents, which is no bad thing. Flooding has been an issue in the area, and her website states that she ‘has long argued that the £1:£8 cost benefit ratio formula provided by the Environment Agency for the funding of flood prevention schemes do not value farmland high enough.’ It isn’t just the residents of South West Norfolk who will appreciate this stance, but many rural communities.
I’m not going to argue that Liz Truss is the best person for the job — or deny that she might have been better placed elsewhere in government. But, at the same time, she’s perhaps not going to be the ally that the likes of Greenpeace and Brian May might have wished for.