Dear Ranil

Congratulations. It is not every day one wakes up with a salary of £98,000, and then turns the bedside light off sixteen hours later secure in the knowledge that it has gone up by a full £45,000. But you are our new Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and my earnest hope is that you will earn every penny of it.

You were probably very busy yesterday when you dashed off your ‘welcome’ tweet and, whilst it was nice to know that you think it ‘is so important to recognise where our food comes from’, I’m not entirely sure that is the whole point of your job. Just as I’m not entirely sure that just doing a few photo calls with sheep and ruddy-cheeked farmers is going to turn this ship of state around. Actually, the hint is in the name of your department, one element of which is the letter ‘E’, which stands for ‘Environment’.

I am an environmentalist, and may I be cheeky enough to suggest six things that you could do to give immediate confidence .

  1. Reassure your boss that she can stop the hard right, unfettered market, tough talk now; she appealed enough to the baser instincts of the 81,326 people (0.001% of the British population, as it happens) to get the job, and she can calm down now. In whatever department you happen to be in, the next two years are going to be brutal.
  2. Give up over worrying about free trade. Believe me, that is the last problem we need to be concerning ourselves with. In contradiction to what you said on Farming Today last May, the welfare and environmental standards we have fought for fifty years to embed in our British farming system is worth much, much more than a disadvantageous trade deal with Australia. And you may have to come to the conclusion that you probably can’t have both, especially when it comes to the USA.
  3. You have three young children. If you do no more than make your decisions, your policies and your priorities based on the world that you would like them to inherit, you will do a fine job. And our part of that natural world, the British part, is the most nature-depleted developed country on earth, having basically lost half its wildlife in my lifetime. If you can persuade yourself that the circle of important issues around us is not just climate change (critical thought that may be), but also pollution, soil quality, water quality, waste and species loss, that would be great. Read Antonelli’s The Hidden Universe for a quick and masterful explanation.
  4. And if you read that book, you will see that nearly 50% of biodiversity decline is down to habitat loss, and 80% of that figure is down to the way we farm, you will make farming a huge priority. You will want to help, with the grant system, farmers create high quality food profitably, and from within corridors of vibrant nature; you will also want to encourage younger farmers to want to come in to the industry.
  5. You will take on the water companies. Not just ‘talk-tough, do-nothing’ tough, as Boris always did, but really take them on. Create a structure of exorbitant fines for failure to tackle leakage, and CEOs in prison for reckless acts of sewage pollution. You will be amazed how quickly things will change.
  6. Finally, please, please realise that this is not all about the Conservative Party being re-elected. That would be a very nice outcome for a few of you, I grant, but the rest of us tedious centrists really couldn’t give a damn about which lot runs the country so long as they do it competently, fairly and sustainably, and don’t make our international neighbours hate us.

Actually, there’s a seventh thing. Here’s the tweet I think you could have sent. Perhaps one day, you actually will.

‘ I am hugely privileged to be have received this appointment, and I promise that it will weigh heavily on me every day that I am in it. I have a unique responsibility to help make our food systems cleaner, fairer and more sustainable, our farmers more effective, our soils more resilient, our rivers and beaches cleaner and our nature once again more bountiful. I recognise from Day 1 that my highest obligation is to future generations, and not to the Conservative Party. I will do my absolute level best.’

Ranil, you are 36, and I am 62. I am not a Conservative, but I wish you the very best of luck in your new job. My advice is turn your Twitter feed off and plunge into it with the air of a man who really can change the world.

Kind regards


1 thought on “Dear Ranil

  1. Hear hear


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