New prime minister has a mountain to climb

Senior Public Affairs Manager Eleanor Wood blogs on yet another new prime minister and government and looks at the background of the new Defra Secretary of State
10 Downing St

I think we can all recognise it’s been a turbulent time in politics over the last few months, maybe even years. Who would want to be prime minister at a time like this? Looking at Rishi Sunak’s in-tray, he is facing a fundamentally fractured Conservative Party lacking direction, dwindling support for the party in the polls and he also has a financial crisis to deal with. In his first few days on the job, the prime minister appears to be placing competence at the top of his priority list.

The moves he has made so far have been sensible ones - the Cabinet reshuffle has placed experience over preference, with every returning Cabinet member having previously held a secretary of state or a senior ministerial position. The most important position in all this has been the retention of Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor. This was a wise choice to both steady the financial markets and keep some continuity in a very unstable time. The fiscal statement due on 31 October (slightly ominous) has been shifted back to 17 November to let the prime minister examine the measures included.

The kind of prime minister Sunak will be is still very much up for debate, but he will likely be keeping a keen eye on the economics, given his background in banking and his tenure as chancellor. The prime minister has also echoed back to the Conservative manifesto of 2019 this week, with the continuation of the ban on fracking, onshore wind and the prioritisation of brownfield sites for planning permission. This is smart work, as this manifesto has a mandate from the British electorate, where many might think that Rishi Sunak does not.

In terms of other appointments, Dr Thérèse Coffey has been appointed as the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Dr Coffey was Liz Truss’ second in command as deputy prime minister, so while a demotion is not bad news, with previous experience in the department as environment minister from 2016 – 2019, Dr Coffey brings knowledge to a department that has seen flux over the last couple of months.

Dr Coffey has been unashamedly a supporter of farmers in the past, championing the use of neonicotinoids and the need for better water supplies for her constituency in Suffolk. She was also in the post under Michael Gove while the Environment Land Management (ELM) schemes were being first developed. She can be a controversial figure but will be a firm defender for Defra at a time when spending cuts are likely to be coming to all government departments. Mark Spencer has also been reappointed to the post of farming minister, and we look forward to continuing our engagement with him.

In Wales, David TC Davies has been made Secretary of State for Wales after a long stint as Welsh Affairs Select Committee chair and a previous role as a minister in the Wales Department. David TC Davies will play a fundamental role in trying to balance how the two countries can operate together smoothly and making sure no side is disadvantaged while both countries develop separate agricultural schemes.

Other notable faces in the cabinet include Michael Gove returning to his post as Levelling-Up Secretary and Grant Shapps to business. I am continually asked what will happen next. It is harder to predict than ever, but the CLA will continue to keep you informed of the latest updates and work with the new government on your behalf.

CLA Webinar: What to expect from a Rishi Sunak-led government

CLA President Mark Tufnell in conversation with senior Conservative MP Philip Dunne, discussing what a Rishi Sunak-led government means for rural voters, with political analysis from CLA Senior Public Affairs Manager Eleanor Wood.