One of the major themes of this year’s big Tory reshuffle was the attempt to detoxify certain policy areas where a minister was involved in a stand-off with certain groups the Tory party would quite like to vote for them. Michael Gove lost his job as Education Secretary for this reason, and so too did Nick Boles find himself being moved from Planning to Skills. Owen Paterson’s departure was a bit more complicated: his aide warned in the days before the reshuffle that to move the Environment Secretary would be to leave 12 million voters in the countryside without a voice, but he was in the midst of pretty high voltage rows with animal rights and environmental groups. And he lost his job.
Today his replacement Liz Truss appeared before the Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee and gave the distinct impression that she, like those who replaced Gove and Boles, was also on a detoxification mission. Asked about the comments Paterson made on his departure about standing up to the ‘Green Blob’ of campaign groups in the environmental movement, Truss said it was difficult to respond to them, but added:
‘I think there are a lot of opportunities and I’m keen to work with [environmental groups]. Of course, in any debate there are different sides of the argument. But I fundamentally don’t think we have to choose between economic progress and environmental progress. I think we can do both. I think this government is showing that we can do both.’
Truss is by no means a lily-livered minister without ideological zeal (which is probably one of the reasons she didn’t take over from Michael Gove at Education, despite knowing a great deal about it), so it would be unfair to describe her as a dull stop-gap minister who brings nothing to the job other than that she’s Not Owen Paterson.