New environment secretary Owen Paterson will worry greens
Paterson lists trees as an interest but is no treehugger, supporting the badger cull and opposing renewable energy. The reshuffle has left the cabinet less green.
Owen Paterson, the new Secretary of State for Environment, supports the culling of badgers despite having kept one as a childhood pet. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
The new environment secretary, Owen Paterson, is set to be blooded in his new job by the start of the highly controversial badger cull in England. Animals will be shot within weeks, unless ongoing legal challenges succeed in granting the creatures a stay of execution or the expected protests stall the marksmen. The cull aims to curb the scourge of tuberculosis in cattle and Paterson, when shadow environment secretary, wholeheartedly backed the farmers who support the cull, despite revealing that as a child he had kept an orphaned badger as a pet.
That is the most pressing issue in his in-tray, though rising food prices and the alternating threat of floods and droughts require urgent attention too - tricky given the huge budget cut his predecessor accepted for the department.
But environmental campaigners should prepare for deep disappointment: despite listing "trees" as an interest, Paterson is no treehugger. In May, he reportedly told the Cabinet that it should end all energy subsidies, such as those for wind and solar power, and fast-track shale gas exploitation. He also urged more aviation capacity, which seems far more likely now Justine Greening - implacably opposed to a third runway at Heathrow has been removed. As MP for North Shropshire, Paterson hasspoken against wind farms and the new pylons needed to carry their power to the national grid.
His appointment marks a sharp lurch away from the green-minded policies which sheltered in the environment department and a significant weakening of the green voice at the Cabinet table.
Finally, a word on Spelman. Her dismissal to the backbenches is hardly a surprise after a difficult tenure which included the coalition government's first major U-turn - the reversal on the forestry sell-off - and the high profile troubles over the badger cull. Her trouble, in my opinion, began when she offered up a massive budget cut for her department in the comprehensive spending review, the biggest of any big ministry. Worst hit were the nation's flood defences, whose funding plunged. That may be a false economy that comes back to bite Paterson if one of the increasing number of floods hits a major city like Leeds or York.
But Spelman clearly understood that a failure to tackle climate change and the loss of natural spaces and all the creatures that vanish with them will have a real cost for us all. Perhaps it was her conviction that sustainability is not optional - awkward for George Osborne and his growth-at-any-cost colleagues - that did for her, and not the forestry fuss.