The sacking of Owen Paterson is extraordinary. Here was a man who lived and breathed his portfolio, being a man of the countryside. He was well-regarded as one of the hardest workers in Westminster and someone who represented an important slice of the party’s support in the Cabinet. Moreover, he was one of only three members of the government who seriously thought – on either side of the issue — about the implications of the global-warming debate, the other two being Michael Fallon and the green-tinged Greg Barker. As Matt Sinclair, former chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, has pointed out, two have been sacked and one moved to a position where he will have nothing to say on the issue (unless, Lord help us, he declares climate change a national-security threat to Britain). While I have nothing but the highest praise for Owen’s replacement, Liz Truss, I cannot imagine she will be able to have the same effect as Owen in the months leading up to the general election.
There are those who will say that Owen paid the price for the devastating floods that hit Britain this winter. Yet it is clear that the floods were the responsibility of the Environment Agency, which stopped dredging rivers some time ago against the advice of countrymen. The Agency should have been abolished and Paterson given the job of creating a replacement agency more in tune with the needs of rural areas. His sacking got everything backwards.
As for the demotion of my old friend Michael Gove, the only reason can be that he was too successful at taking on the education establishment, and they demanded his head. While a brilliant man, I believe his talents will not be best utilized in the Whips’ Office. Paul Goodman agrees.
I think the effect of these two stunning decisions is best summarized by Thatcher biographer Charles Moore:
[Cameron] has singled out for punishment those ministers who were brave and active — most notably Michael Gove and Owen Paterson, demoting the first and sacking the second. Thus he emboldens all those pressure groups who hate the Tories and sends out a message that no one who wants a ministerial career should have a serious interest in his or her subject He has also target-bombed his party’s natural supporters — rural voters, Eurosceptics, non-greens and people who are out of sympathy with his metropolitan preoccupations.
It’s an astonishing attack on his base seemingly in order to win over metropolitan voters. They’ll be singing, dancing, and enjoying a pint and a smoke in UKIP headquarters tonight.