Reshuffle – Lib Dems demoted at Defra as Heath axed

David Heath has been sacked as Minister of State for Agriculture and Food at Defra. In his place is North Cornwall Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson, but at the more junior position of Parliamentary Under Secretary.

Dan Rogerson

In his letter to Heath, Nick Clegg said:

I am very aware of the pressure on you within Defra over the last year, and I am particularly grateful to you for the clarity and objectivity you have brought to issues of animal and plant disease, your defence of environmental issues, your commitment to agriculture and rural areas, and the development of new and exciting policies to enhance our forests.

In my view and that of many environmentalists, Heath never made much of an impression at Defra. He was unable to counter Owen Paterson’s increasing swagger as an anti-environmentalist. As Paterson publicly undermined the government’s policies on climate change, we longed to hear  – even from anonymous briefings  – that his ministers were in a rage with his antics. We did not hear that.

David Heath has yet to make a statement on the reshuffle.

One minister who was happy with Paterson’s sceptical line on climate change and the environment line was Tory Richard Benyon. He’s been dismissed too and that has to be good for wildlife and biodiversity. Back in May, Berkshire Lib Dem Shaughan Dolan called for Benyon to be sacked:

As a Minister for the Environment he has consistently acted with contempt for the nature he has sworn to protect.

That’s putting it mildly. As the seventh richest minister in the UK, Benyon also is the one that urged the poor to survive on leftovers. I guess he feeds scraps to his dogs too. But we can at least lift our hat a little to him for his sense of humour:

Richard Benyon Tweet

Benyon is replaced by Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, George Eustice.

Like Eustice, Dan Rogerson has served on the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. Rogerson brings a lot of experience to his role and opposed the controversial incinerator at St Dennis. I reckon he will be a good Lib Dem voice in Defra, but his position is perhaps too junior to have much impact.

It is very disappointing that the Liberal Democrat presence in Defra has been demoted. Only a week ago, I was saying here on Lib Dem Voice:

It is time for the Lib Dems to develop a strong environmental voice within Defra to counter the anti-environment sentiments of the current Tory paradigm.

We have not got that strong environmental voice from this reshuffle.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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30 Comments

  • I know this is a controversial area within the party, but in my view David Heath did us no favours with a large constituency of people who might otherwise be prepared to countenance supporting us by his enthusiastic promotion of badger culling.

  • tonyhill It is perhaps worth remembering that Tim Farron was one of the major introducers of the badger cull as Lib Dem policy (before the 2010 election – I don’t think enough “credit” has been ascribed to him in that regard.

  • Melanie Harvey 8th Oct '13 - 1:40pm

    His first job should be a review of the years 05-08 and in concern of the racing industry, particularly in respect of equine drug control and poisoning cases.

  • Tony Greaves 8th Oct '13 - 3:04pm

    If David Heath was sacked, I think he has been badly treated. Reports in the press today suggest that the badger cull has been unsuccessful and it may be that the two ministers are scapegoats for that? I don’t know. Anyway I am glad to see the back of Benyon.

    But David was doing an excellent job in DEFRA and his work on the forests has been outstanding. That may now need watching.

    What Clegg’s letter means I know not.

    Tony

  • Tony Greaves 8th Oct '13 - 3:06pm

    By the way I don’t think there is much difference beween a Minister of State and an Under-Secretary of State, in terms of influence – that depends on the minister him/herself and what they do. The only real differnce is between the S of S and the rest.

    Tony

  • David Evans 8th Oct '13 - 4:22pm

    Tim13
    There is no Lib Dem Policy on Badger Culling. Why do you choose to claim Tim Farron introduced it? Or is it have a go at Tim Farron time?

  • Peter Andrews 8th Oct '13 - 4:24pm

    Not good as this leaves Owen Patterson a right wing climate change denier with only a very junior Lib Dem presence in his department

  • Sorry, David Evans, there is a Coalition policy on badger culling – I think you will find it was Tim within the Lib Dems, who prior to the 2010 election, set the context for the Parliamentary Party to accept badger culling as something the Lib Dems could do if in power. It is more than probable that the Conference would reject such a policy if put to it, I have no doubt. I am surprised you hadn’t heard that one before (or, perhaps, as we are all in Conspiracy Theory territory, I am the victim or proponent of such a theory!)

  • Very glad to see Dan Rogerson on the ministerial team, he will bring his considerable, but understated intellect, and his Cornish radicalism with him. Interestingly, of course, Dan was Sarah Teather’s aide during her 2003 byelection.

  • David Evans – just googled. Tim, as Shadow S of S, DEFRA, on Jan 27th 2010, said a badger cull would be “an essential part of the Lib Dem policy to control bovine TB”.

  • Derailing to pick a nit, but in the tags shouldn’t reshufle have two Fs?

  • David Evans 8th Oct '13 - 6:13pm

    Tim 13 – So no Lib Dem policy on Badger Culling, now you refer to a coalition policy on badger culling. Likewise you have gone from Tim “a major introducer of the badger cull as Lib Dem policy” to “Tim … set the context … as something the Lib Dems could do.” Would you like to retract any further? Or do you wish to give him “credit” for something else that isn’t true?

  • I was actually expecting an apology from you, David! I have not retracted what I said as “a major introducer”. I believe I have demonstrated that – why are you unable to accept it? Of course you can argue the technicality that it is coalition, and not Lib Dem policy, but it is the latter to which Tim himself refers in his website release of Jan 2010.

  • David Evans 8th Oct '13 - 7:12pm

    Tim,
    You seem to be changing your colours more quickly than a chameleon. Never introduced (a non existent) Lib Dem Policy, but now you haven’t retracted it; Never in the government but has to answer for coalition policy; just has a view that evidence based policy is best and slaughtering massive numbers of cattle for TB control is not acceptable.

    2/10 – must try harder.

  • Peter Watson 8th Oct '13 - 9:54pm

    @David Evans
    According to Farmers Guardian in April 2010 (http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/livestock/livestock-news/lib-dems-will-not-dodge-badger-cull/31463.article):
    “THE Liberal Democrat Party has reaffirmed its commitment to a badger cull despite failing to make a formal pledge in its manifesto. The Lib Dems are expected to play a significant part in the outcome of many rural constituencies at the general election on May 6, but farmers were alarmed to find no mention of a badger cull in their manifesto. Terry Jones, NFU acting director of communications, said: “I am extremely disappointed that the manifesto lacks political leadership in this area and that there is no commitment to tackling this pernicious disease.” However Tim Farron, Lib Dem agriculture spokesman, has moved quickly to re-assure farmers that his party will back a badger cull as part of a wider strategy to tackle bovine TB.”
    This makes it sound very disingenuous to claim that Farron “never introduced (a non existent) Lib Dem Policy”.

  • David Evans 9th Oct '13 - 12:40am

    On the contrary, there is only one way the Lib Dems make policy and that is by the party through conference. A badger cull is not mentioned in any policies voted through conference. What it says in the Farmers Guardian or anywhere else other than conference does not matter, it is not Lib Dem Policy, and to claim it is is just to ignore the facts.

  • Peter Watson 9th Oct '13 - 7:52am

    @David Evans “What it says in the Farmers Guardian or anywhere else other than conference does not matter”
    The Farmers Guardian was simply reporting what Tim Farron said, but if you’d prefer it from the badger’s mouth, from Tim Farron’s own website in January 2010 (http://timfarron.co.uk/en/article/2010/105713/lib-dems-pledge-to-introduce-badger-cull-in-response-to-tb-crisis):
    “A badger cull would be an essential part of the Liberal Democrat policy to control bovine TB according to Lib Dem Shadow Defra Secretary Tim Farron, who has accused the Government of ‘shamelessly ducking the issue'”
    and
    “Mr Farron has promised that a Liberal Democrat Government would seek to reduce the huge amounts of cattle being slaughtered by implementing a pilot badger cull along with regular testing and program of vaccines.”
    so rather than criticise Tim13 and others for not making the distinction between what a senior Lib Dem says is party policy and what, in the strictest pedantic sense is a “policy” according to party rules, perhaps you should instead criticise Farron for misleading voters.

    Besides which, if opposing tuition fees is a “policy” that is so easily ignored, then why should voters make any distinction between official “policy” and anything else that senior Lib Dems say, whether in Opposition or Government.

  • Why have we agreed to the demotion of our presence in DEFRA – what was the quid pro quo?

    David Heath seemed competent, although I disagree with him over badger culling (which is bad science, bad public policy, diverts us from the real challenge of finding a vaccine, and immoral) but he did not seem to have much of a public presence.

  • Simon Banks 9th Oct '13 - 9:01am

    I hope David and Peter can bring their dispute to an end now. Since the statement by Tim Farron is not disputed, there seem to be no grounds for arguing that the criticism of him was unfounded, except to argue that he was right on badger culling. The question of what constitutes Liberal Democrat policy is quite separate and Peter is right to say we make policy only through the conference, but the outside world is unlikely to make this distinction when party spokespeople make commitments within their area of responsibility.

  • I am sorry David Evans – what you say sounds very much like an apologia for Tim Farron. You keep deliberately missing the point by resorting to technicality. Thankyou, I am quite aware of how the Party makes policy, having participated in the Conference process on a regular basis over the years. If anyone has misunderstood Liberal Democrat policy and its genesis, it is Tim F, whose release via his website of Jan 27th 2010 is still in place, making the quote I give above. Of course he wasn’t authorised to make policy, but as a senior Lib Dem he was at the time as seen as bouncing the party into adopting it. Lo and behold, 4 months later, the Coalition was formed, and there was the Parliamentary Lib Dems accepting something which even you would agree was controversial within the Lib Dem membership and supporters.

    I am sure that we could dig out material showing that Tim’s statement was used by many animal rights people against the Lib Dems in the runup to May 2010. I can say with some knowledge that it has lost us a lot of support now. What I was trying to demonstrate was that it wasn’t just a matter of David Heath AS A MINISTER, introducing this policy, as a single “maverick” Lib Dem, but the groundwork had been laid by the Shadow Sec of State, Tim Farron, way before the election. If that doesn’t count as a “major introducer” I don’t know what does! Your wily semantic arguments will not wash, David.

  • Simon Banks, it was me who has had this debate with David Evans – Peter came in to support me. Thankyou for your support of my statements by the way!

  • David Evans 9th Oct '13 - 10:08am

    Tim 13,
    I acknowledge your views, but I argue based on facts, not technicalities. If you wanted to say Tim made a speech 6 years ago that is one thing and is clear. If you want to argue that this was him leading the Lib Dems down a route which the party doesn’t want to go down, I think you are mistaking him for Nick Clegg, If you want to say he has led Lib Dem policy to that point, you are just wrong.

  • nvelope2003 9th Oct '13 - 11:37am

    Benyon did not say the poor should live on leftovers so why did you say that he did?
    Read the news item – he was merely pointing out that too much food is wasted which could have been used. This is almost certainly true for all of us but does not make it right. I am sorry to find the Liberal Democrats believe in wasting things but I am not surprised.
    .

  • I want to say he bounced the Lib Dems, and if you want to say, the Coalition, as it evolved (it being a lot easier to corral Tories to support a cull of this nature) ex officio, as Shadow Sec of State in the lead up to the 2010 GE into being told what Lib Dem policy “was”. It would be interesting to see how much of a part this issue played, in his 2010 campaign, eg in target letters to the farming community? Can you tell us anything about that, David?

    I do not know what part Nick Clegg played in the evolution of (shall we call it) Lib Dem Parliamentary support for the Govt policy of badger culling – do you? As far as I know, no-one in the Parliamentary Party in any position of influence had said previously that a badger cull was a part of “Lib Dem policy”, so IMHO, that constitutes his leading the charge. Are you aware of anyone else at a senior level in the party having made any statements even resembling that? You assert categorically that I am wrong – which has to mean you have other info. Could we be privy to that? As Farron’s statement at that time was high profile, and created more than a frisson in Party circles, I would have thought others would have been mentioned at that time who had supported such an idea previously. It may well, for instance, be that David Heath had made such statements previously, but it was TF who was in the hot seat at the time. And was your reference to a speech “6 years ago” a fact, and if so, what are you trying to prove with that? Who do you think led the charge in Lib Dem Commons support of a badger cull? Another thought – do you believe that Tim Farron had changed his mind by the time the Coalition was debating the cull? If all you are saying is that Tim Farron has not been a part of Government, then of course, you are right! That’s hardly the argument, though, is it.

  • Peter Watson 9th Oct '13 - 2:44pm

    Ignoring for a moment whether or not it constituted party policy in 2010 when Farron made public statements about Lib Dem support for badger culling in his official role as the party’s spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what exactly is Lib Dem policy on badger culling now? I would say broadly that the Conservatives support the cull while Labour opposes it. The Lib Dem view seems harder to pin down. Is this because our rural MPs court a different vote from our urban ones, and we fall between two stools?

  • Peter, if it goes along with our support or otherwise for hunting, your final sentence possibly sums it up! I remember well, as a former rural – ish candidate, being prepared to admit my anti – hunting views, and because the constituency I fought was mixed town and country, being attacked virulently in the rural areas (to the extent that a line of 15 – 20 posters along a bypass road were all trashed one night, the evidence being that pro-hunting campaigners had done it). Equally, I garnered both urban and, tacit, rural support for my declared stance.

    I must admit, I have been surprised at our MPs allowing the badger cull to go ahead, and I think the debate we have had on this thread shows that there is a split in Lib Dem views on this, despite “the science” showing little support for the pro-cull position.

  • David Evans 9th Oct '13 - 4:20pm

    Tim, you seem to be hell bent on making up ever more outlandish claims based on no more than an apparent wish to blame someone. As for your question “I do not know what part Nick Clegg played in the evolution of (shall we call it) Lib Dem Parliamentary support for the Govt policy of badger culling.” It is clear you don’t do irony.

    So to make it clear – Nick is the only one powerful enough in the party to bounce the Lib Dems into an apparent policy position, as he has done so clearly on so many subjects so far – NHS reform, Secret Courts to name but two. He has even done so against the clear vote of conference. Tim Farron, David Heath and almost all the others are not in the same league when it comes to absolute power (either having it, wanting it or abusing it) and until you realise that you will continue to jump to the wrong conclusion.

  • David – Couldn’t agree more with your view that Nick is “powerful enough to bounce” the Party. Of course he has, as we have seen. Yes, I do do irony / sarcasm, whatever – whereas had NC opposed it absolutely it is clear it probably would have been difficult to get through, although several of the worst howlers of this Government seem to have been when NC has not had his eye on the ball (ie errors of omission rather than commission). However, others are not without authority in their own area, and you seem to be hell-bent on a defence of Tim Farron, which in this case doesn’t seem to make sense.
    I am sure we will have to agree to disagree.

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