I will take a moment this week to celebrate the passing of Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary shuffled out of the government as David Cameron tries to freshen his cabinet in preparation for next year’s general election by culling the 'old white men in suits'.
Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was allegedly removed because he had become ‘toxic’ after taking on the teaching unions. Personally I feel Paterson’s toxicity level should be even higher than Gove’s, but there are no unions defending our wildlife.
Paterson is the man who ignored scientific advice to proceed with the disastrous badger cull, and when that exercise was seen to have failed on both criteria of ‘effectiveness’ and ‘humaneness’ he ludicrously accused badgers of ‘moving the goalposts’!
He is the minister responsible for Britain’s wildlife who set traps for squirrels on his estate in Shropshire and then gleefully posed for photos with the dead animals. He is the man who lectured Africans about the need to protect elephants, while his department sanctioned the destruction of protected buzzard nests to protect pheasants reared for game shooting.
In his two year tenure in charge of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs he tried but failed to block EU plans to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, widely held to be responsible for devastating bees and other pollinators.
He watered down Natural England’s call for new Marine Conservation Zones. This wide reaching consultation was set up by his own department at a cost of £8 million to look at safeguarding England’s marine environment, but when the results indicated 127 different conservation areas were needed DEFRA announced it would take action on only 31 of them.
Paterson was the man in charge of farming who led a personal crusade in the face of public opinion to legalise GMOs. He even reneged on a deal struck with the Scottish government to represent their separate and opposite view at EU meetings. But then he is also the minister who tried to dismiss the horse meat scandal as a simple issue of mislabeling rather than public safety, missing the point that if you don’t actually know what’s in your food you cannot possibly say it’s safe to eat!
He is the climate change denier who slashed 550 jobs at the Environment Agency dealing with flood prevention, and then presided over the worst floods in a generation in the winter of 2014. He even came in for criticism by the NFU for being too glib about the effects of global warming after suggesting a longer growing season might be good for UK agriculture.
There is barely a corner of Britain’s natural environment or food industry that has not been touched by this most appalling Secretary of State. The wonder is that Cameron left him in the post for so long.
Paterson might reflect with some sense of irony that he and other big beasts of the party such as Gove, Clarke and Hague have all been culled to improve the electoral health of the Tory herd. Instead his friends have been calling it a victory for the animal rights brigade. He has left warning that he will not go quietly and will continue to voice his beliefs from the backbenches, but what of his replacement?
Liz Truss does not come from a farming background and unlike Paterson, or his former Under Secretary Richard Benyon, she does not own a country estate, however she does represent a rural constituency in South West Norfolk.
The suspicion will hang over her until she proves otherwise that her promotion owes more to being young and female than any special aptitude for the job. In the past she has been a keen supporter of the badger cull, but there is little other evidence to indicate what kind of Environment Secretary she will be. Time alone will tell, but it is hard to believe she could be any worse than her predecessor!