North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson loses Environment Secretary post


Staff reporter (Border Counties)

DAVID Cameron will start putting his new ministerial team in place after a cull of senior Tories, including the departure of North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson from his role as Environment Secretary.

The Prime Minister is expected to promote a number of women and young rising stars to replace the male ministers axed in a brutal reshuffle which also the shock resignation of William Hague MP from his role as Defence Secretary and the end of Ken Clarke's lengthy ministerial career.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond will replace Mr Hague, who moves to become Leader of the Commons before standing down as an MP next year. It is not yet known if MP Paterson plans to stand at the next General Election.

Other senior casualties include chief whip Sir George Young, 72, who is retiring; Welsh Secretary David Jones was ousted by Mr Cameron and is poised to be replaced by his deputy Stephen Crabb; and in another surprising move, the Prime Minister was reported to have sacked senior mandarin Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the civil service.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister also accepted the resignations of universities minister David Willetts and energy and climate change minister Greg Barker, who will both stand down as MPs next year.

Andrew Robathan quit as a minister in the Northern Ireland Office, Alan Duncan left his post at international development, while news of Hugh Robertson's resignation from the Foreign Office filtered through while he was on an overseas trip in Beirut.

Within moments of Owen Paterson's reported sacking as Environment Secretary, animal rights campaigners were quick to put the boot in.

"The badgers have outlasted Owen Paterson," was the general gist of the crowing on social media - heavy on references to culls - taunting the North Shropshire MP over the issue which has, to many, defined his short stint in office.

It was Mr Paterson, a multi-lingual Oxbridge graduate, who had overseen the much-maligned attempt to put the brakes on the spread of bovine TB, at a cost of around 2,000 badgers.

And it was on Mr Paterson's watch, too, that the winter floods brought pockets of the country to its knees.

Though even his fiercest critics would admit the minister could do little to stop the rain from falling, he could have at least packed his Wellington boots on a visit to the Somerset Levels in January rather than a suit and smart shoes. It simply provided further ammunition to those who campaigned hard to oust Mr Paterson from his post.

On the eve of his apparent departure, he could not move for the rubber footwear.

Hundreds of Wellington boots were dumped outside Defra's offices by Friends of the Earth campaigners calling on David Cameron to sack Mr Paterson for what they considered his perceived failure to take climate change seriously.

Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins responded to reports of his departure by saying: "David Cameron is right to give Owen Paterson the boot - he's the worst Environment Secretary the UK has had for decades.

"Mr Paterson has wilfully ignored scientific evidence on climate change, championed pesticide firms instead of bees and massively under-invested in flood defences, leaving thousands of households at risk of future flooding.

"His successor must show they are serious about safeguarding Britain's environment and protecting the nation from the growing threat of global climate change."

Greenpeace's executive director John Sauven added: "So for now at least, the badgers have outlasted Owen Paterson.

"If history remembers him, it will not be kind. An ideological attachment to climate change denial saw him sack people working on flood defences just when we needed them most. When his own scientists tried to brief him, he refused to hear them out.

"Hopefully his successor will have an affinity for evidence-based policy-making. Mr Paterson most certainly did not."

Mr Paterson's political career has been characterised by short-lived appointments.

Though a Tory MP since the Labour general election win of 1997, Mr Paterson held three portfolios in Opposition (agriculture, transport and Northern Ireland), none of which lasted three years.

Although the latter transferred to a full Secretary of State title as the Con-Dem coalition swept to power in 2010, Mr Paterson moved to Environment Secretary in September 2012. Indeed his website describes him as having "recently" taken on the position.

Mr Paterson was barely a month into his new brief when the tensions underlining either side of the badger cull - an attempt to prevent the spread of bovine TB with a series of planned trial culls - appeared to be brought home during a heated debate.

The Environment Secretary could hardly conceal his frustration as he walked out of the Commons muttering to himself: ''I can't take any more of this.'' He was apparently irritated during exchanges between MPs discussing the cull.

Almost £3.5 million of taxpayers' cash is estimated to have been spent policing the Government's controversial badger culls, the Home Office said afterwards.

This amounts to around £1,872 per badger as 940 were shot in Somerset and 921 in Gloucestershire in the first year of the four-year pilot.

The second year of the two pilots, in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, will go ahead with changes made in light of the report to improve the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of culling.

And in the aftermath of the flooding, as weary homeowners battled to restore their lives to normal against a backdrop of relentless rain, burst mains and a perceived lack of help from the state, Paterson was nowhere to be seen. He was having emergency surgery for a detached retina, putting Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in temporary charge.

Now the Prime Minister is thought to be lining up a permanent replacement.

Those tipped for advancement include employment minister Esther McVey, education minister Liz Truss and ministerial aide Penny Mordaunt.

Other women MPs tipped for promotion include Margot James, Amber Rudd and Harriett Baldwin, as the Tory leader seeks to counter criticism that his government is still dominated by men.

Former defence secretary Liam Fox, a darling of the Tory right, could make a comeback to the political front line nearly three years after quitting in a row over his special adviser.

Labour said the reshuffle amounted to a "massacre of the moderates" and highlighted Mr Hammond's Euroscepticism.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher said: "This speaks volumes about David Cameron's leadership.

"Four years of failure to promote women and now we have the massacre of the moderates.

"Britain's foreign policy is now set to be led by a man who has talked about taking us out of the EU. The Tories are now retreating out of Europe with all the threat that poses to jobs and business in Britain.

"This reshuffle shows how weak David Cameron is, running scared of his own right wing. That's why he cannot focus on the big challenges facing families up and down the country."

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