Who is in charge at Defra? Technically, it's the environment secretary George Eustice. But in recent weeks there have been whisperings of the growing influence of the Goldsmith clan. Zac Goldsmith is a minister in the department as well as a close friend of both Boris Johnson and his fiancé Carrie Symonds. Just this weekend, a No. 10 source came out to deny claims from the farming lobby that Symonds and Goldsmith had teamed up in a bid to tie up farmers in red tape to protect the environment.
It's something of a family affair at the department with Goldsmith's brother Ben a board director at Defra despite breaking his own department’s rules over the release of deer from his land – something which Zac’s boss George Eustice subsequently conceded in a Daily Mail interview. Red deer belonging to longstanding Tory donor Ben escaped from his Somerset farm in July because of inadequate fencing. After the deer damaged neighbours’ land, he admitted falsely claiming to nearby farmers that he was having the creatures rounded up. A separate matter involving wild boars was even probed by the police though Mr S isn’t clear if they needed to go the whole hog.
Now it seems the Goldsmith effect is only growing stronger. Mr S understands that in the SW1 merry go round Defra will shortly be hiring a new special adviser. Megan Trethewey is set to join from the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), chaired by Ben Goldsmith. It follows another former special adviser Sam Hall heading in the opposite direction two years earlier to his current role as CEN director.
Steerpike hopes she proves to be a better mender of fences than her erstwhile chairman...