New Shadow DEFRA Team announced: emphasis on the urban and post-industrial


ICI Billingham as it was in 1970: part of new environment minister Alex Cunningham’s constituency


It’s taken a while but Jerry Corbyn has finally chosen his shadow ministers. Working for Shadow Secretary of State for Defra Kerry McCarthy MP (who has set out her initial views on the post here) will be:

Alex Cunningham, Nick Smith, Baroness Maggie Jones and Lord John Grantchester. Old hand Barry Gardiner a former biodiversity minister and shadow environment minister, is now in the shadow DECC team and as he’s listed second under Lisa Nandy, it’s reasonable to assume he is second in command ; Minister of State.

What do we know about the shadow EFRA team?

Born in Scotland, Alex Cunningham is MP for Stockton North, in the north-east. Elected in 2010 after a career in regional journalism followed by a long stint in industry comms with National Grid, during which time he was a Labour councillor. His media and comms skills should come in extremely handy when challenging Defra’s public stance on emotive subjects like the badger cull. Cunningham welcomed news of HLF funding for a wildlife project in his constituency, saying:

“Open spaces and green areas such as Hardwick Dene are of great importance to our communities, not to mention the flora and fauna that thrive in these surroundings.  And the opportunity for young people to work towards the John Muir award will allow them to develop an understanding of this importance while gaining experience of the important conservation activities that will safeguard their availability for generations to come.”

Originally from Cardiff, Nick Smith is another recently elected MP, winning Blaenau Gwent in 2010. Another former Labour councillor (in Camden). He has been a Labour activist all his career, working within Labour HQ, but also stints with the European Labour party in Brussels, as a campaigner with the NSPCC and policy director at the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. He was accused of being a product of “Blairite New Labour” when he won a selection contest to be candidate for Blaenau Gwent – former seat of Labour-left stalwarts Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot. It’s difficult to find any evidence of an interest in the environment, apart from one oral question back in 2010,

“I am a keen hill walker, but the Government are selling off England’s forests and nature reserves. Why are they selling off those natural assets for a quick buck without getting strong assurances on public rights of way?”

Perhaps Smith will get the shadow forestry remit.

Baroness Maggie Jones had been a shadow Lords spokesperson for Education, and Culture Media and Sport. She was formerly a non-exec Director for WRAP, the publicly funded recycling campaign and is now a trustee there. Before going to the Lords she was policy director for UNISON.

Lord John Grantchester aka Christopher Suenson-Taylor, is the heir to the John Moore Littlewoods football pools fortune. He is a dairy farmer but also owns 8% of Everton Football club. He was chair of Dairy Farmers of Great Britain when it went bust in 2009.

It is perhaps noteworthy that the 2 MPs chosen to support Kerry McCarthy are both from former industrial heartland constituencies with limited rural areas. Stockton North includes the industrial centre of Billingham, while Blaenau Gwent lies at the head of the south Wales valleys, including Ebbw Vale. McCarthy represents the urban constituency of Bristol East.


Photo: “Billingham ICI plant September 1970 No. 9 geograph-3436075-by-Ben-Brooksbank” by Ben Brooksbank. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in Kerry McCarthy, Labour, Labour shadow DEFRA team and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to New Shadow DEFRA Team announced: emphasis on the urban and post-industrial

  1. A useful round up, Miles, Barry Gardiner is good, though we wait to see how strong labour is on the Environment. I suspect it will get side-lined.

  2. Miles,
    Nick Smith hasn’t said much on the environment, but he is an avid supporter of one of the most damaging developments in Wales, Circuit of Wales. See what the Wildlife Trust in Wales say about it:

    It’s a Welsh Lodge Hill! The previous Welsh environment minister , Alun Davies, was found guilty of breaking the ministerial code trying to influence the statutory advice given by NRW.Although he wasn’t sacked for it, he was sacked the next day for further infringements of the code. I guarantee that if your blog paid attention to Welsh environment issues, CoW would be at the top of your dirty list.

    Anyone who thinks building a race track ,car parks, hotels and conference centres over peatland Habitats on the very border of the Brecons NP (and it is literally on the boundary), surely cannot have much to offer on the environment.

    It’s going to take most than a fondness for walking in the countryside to overcome his support for the CoW.

  3. Forgot to add that for such an advocate of public rights of way, it is unfortunate that Circuit of Wales is on Common land & here is what the Open Spaces Society have to say on the development

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