Caroline Spelman, the MP for Meriden, is the new secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As it so happens, I was with some Defra civil servants yesterday and they were intrigued about what the outcome might be.
Nick Herbert was the shadow spokesperson, but I was not greatly impressed by some of his comments: indeed, I even thought of writing to him and offering some advice! There was speculation that a Lib Dem might get the post and it has been suggested that one of the junior posts in the department will go to the Lib Dems.
Caroline Spelman has a background with big sugar. She worked for the British Sugar Corporation and held the sugar commodities post at NFU. She also worked for the International Federation of Beet Growers in Paris. I have had some dealings with big sugar myself and I know they are serious players.
Her appointment will no doubt be welcomed by the barley barons in East Anglia and the NFU. Farmers felt that Defra until Labour had become the Department for the Elimination of Farming and Rural Activity. I do think that there are some issues on which they have legitimate grievances, for example the failures of the Rural Payments Agency and policy paralysis on bovine TB.
Against a background of public expenditure restraint which will hit a department like Defra hard, the new ministerial term faces a challenging time. I wish the new team well. The excellent civil servants at Nobel House whom I had the privilege of working with last year are also in my thoughts. I am confident that they will respond to the challenge well, as the British civil service always does.