is the sun setting on Owen Paterson? ((c) Miles King)
Some say we have seen Peak Oil, but are now witnessing Peak “Owen Paterson”? After yesterday’s performance in the Commons, where Paterson repeatedly failed to respond to questioning on his climate change denial, criticism is (finally) increasing.
Even the Tory loyalist chair of the EFRA committee, Anne McIntosh is now concerned; “Recent flooding events reinforce our concerns about cuts to the Defra budget. It is a small ministry facing massive cuts,”she said – only 3 years late Anne. How is it that the previous massive cuts to Defra didn’t have these effects? Or perhaps Anne is now very worried that she is going to be deselected as an MP and is seeking to gain some publicity.
Paterson visited a flood defence project yesterday, as if to say “look I really do care about all you people who have been flooded”. What they may not realise is that Paterson has already caved in to farmers wanting to take farmland flood management into their own hands, by relaxing the rules on dredging watercourses on farmland, against the advice of the Environment Agency. Paterson apparently said “the purpose of waterways is to get rid of water”.
Paterson clearly sees the word as a small set of large lego bricks which either fit together or don’t. What he failed to realise is that getting rid of water in one place means it arrives more quickly at another place. So getting rid of water from flooded farmland means it arrives (with silt mud and other debris) in the next town, flooding properties.
There are a wide range of land-use actions that can reduce farmland and downstream flooding, but of course using them would require a) boots on the ground from agencies such as NE and EA who are rapidly losing those boots due to funding cuts b) moving more money from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 in the Common Agricultural Policy (which would upset his chums in the NFU) and c) more regulation, which is of course anathema to neo-conservatives like Paterson.
Paterson is already tainted by the charnel emanations arising from the rotting remains of the Badger Cull fiasco. Each killed badger cost £4000, with 80% of this being paid by the taxpayer. Somerset Badger Group vaccinate each badger for £25. Perhaps Paterson is doing his bit to grow the economy, by inflating the costs of killing wildlife. Even the Tory Spectator is spreading rumours of his imminent departure in a Spring reshuffle.
With his latest “off the wall” pronouncements on Biodiversity Offsetting creating waves of repulsion all round, it must be time for him to go.
I have to say I cannot remember as awful a Secretary of State for the Environment in 30 years, with the possible exception of his uncle-in-law “Old Nick” Ridley. But then that may be the problem, as Paterson clearly gets all his advice from his brother-in-law Matt Ridley, the climate change denialist and anti-environmentalist. Policy Exchange has recently appointed Matt Ridley, a hereditary Peer in the Lords, as a visiting scholar.