PETER FROST looks back on an Environment Secretary who did nothing good for the environment.

Caroline Spelman, sacked from her top job at Defra in the cabinet re-shuffle was even in many Tories eyes, fortunate to survive the forest sell-off fiasco for so long.

All kinds of Defra policies showed Ms Spelman far keener on profits for farmers and shooting estates than promoting the ‘greenest government ever’ that Cameron and Clegg once cynically promised.

Selling our forests, slashing National Park funding, culling badgers, promoting mega-dairies, shooting buzzards, privatising our waterways and a dozen other policies confirmed that this ex-lobbyist for the massive conglomerates of the agri-business hadn’t changed her true colours – and they certainly weren’t green.

Sacked too is her second in command Jim Paice – the Tory farming minister who famously didn’t know the price of milk.

Richard Benyon Minister for Wildlife and Biodiversity has kept his position which suggests the British countryside isn’t going to be in any safer hands under the new team.

Benyon is a multi-millionaire farmer and landowner with a stately home and over 20,000 acres of land which has been in his family for almost three centuries.

Benyon has previous form for a number of environmental scandals.

He sold off large areas of ecologically important habitat including ancient woodland to be turned into a quarry.

He headed up the horrendous Defra project to capture and destroy Buzzards in an attempt to reduce their effect on pheasants reared by wealthy land owners for other posh chaps to shoot.

Benyon was also in charge of the privatisation of the British Waterways Board and its conversion into a charity funded body already under financed and almost certainly incapable of guaranteeing the future of our canal system.

Traditional Tory values came to the fore in the manner of Ms. Spelman’s fall from grace.

All her male companions sacked in the re shuffle were given a knighthood.

Poor Caroline got nothing except a few Tory MP’s suggesting she had to go because at 54 as a woman she was just too old for the job.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw attacked the apparently strange decision to give honours to all the departing men, and none to the women.

“Cameron needs to explain why he’s giving knighthoods to sacked male ministers while ignoring more senior women – another example of the prime minister’s women problem,” said the Exeter MP, himself a previous Defra Minister.

Her sacking isn’t the end of Caroline Spelman’s worries.

Her son Jonathan 17, was suspended from a promising rugby career for taking banned substances.

Mum and the family’s reaction was to apply for a super injunction to keep the story out of the media.

This legal gagging attempt failed.

Now Jonathan has appeared on a web site begging for money as his parents won’t feed him since he has “chosen bodybuilding as my life”.

Sad pictures of the bloated young man are all over the internet.

He has admitted taking a number of drugs, including anabolic steroids and a growth hormone.

But let’s not dwell on this sad family story.

So who are the new boys at Defra? Owen Paterson MP replaces Spelman as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Another millionaire, Paterson inherited his wealth in his family leather and tanning business. The tanning and leather industries have traditionally had an atrocious record on environmental pollution. Add to that Paterson is a leading climate change sceptic.

David Heath MP is the token Liberal Democrat as Minister of State at Defra. The Prime Minister needed to appease the Liberal Democrats by giving them a few crumbs and a junior minister at Defra obviously seemed as good a place as any.

Lord de Mauley comes in as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.
Eton educated Rupert Charles Ponsonby, Seventh Baron de Mauley is exactly as his name and title suggests a very rich Tory landowner with a farming background.

Not much in these few facts to give those of us who love the British countryside and its wildlife much confidence for its future.

More posh boy farmers and shooters in fact; and the battle to keep our land green and pleasant will still need fighting.

This article first published in the Morning Star, 2012


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