If the horses and the badgers pushed him to the edge of the precipice it was the floods that finally swept him into the abyss. From the day Owen Paterson turned up in the flood-ravaged West Country minus a pair of wellies his life as Environment Secretary hung in the balance. The end came swiftly this week when Paterson was replaced by Liz Truss, who herself should know a thing or two about flooding as MP for South West Norfolk where effective water management is so crucial to the local economy.
Paterson’s legacy to the food sector very much depends on your political persuasions. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more divisive figure. Popular among farmers and landowners who admired his championing of British produce (few Environment Secretary’s have clocked up as many ‘food miles’ travelling the world banging the drum for British exports), Paterson was also vilified by environmentalists as a climate change denier who had little time for the notion of sustainability unless it was couched in the somewhat oxymoronic term of ‘sustainable intensification’.
His political instinct was to support producers wherever possible, not least by reducing the burden of regulation on businesses and pushing for the adoption of new technologies. But his failure to properly consider, let alone tackle, the environmental impacts of the food system and promote a coherent food policy that put the interests of consumers first will ensure his passing is not mourned by those advocating a more sustainable food supply. Whether his replacement will fare any better in this regard remains to be seen. Little is known of the food politics of Liz Truss beyond the fact that she represents a constituency for which farming is key to the local economy.
For those of us waiting for a clear signal of Truss’s priorities in her new role we may be left frustrated. The Conservatives are already in full-blown election mode with Number 10 micromanaging communications that come out of government departments and so it’s likely to be all quiet on the policy front until after the election. Only then are we likely to get a feel for what Truss’s legacy will be……assuming she’s not culled by the voters next May.