Andrew Livingston considers Thérèse Coffey’s exit – an end to a contentious stint, overshadowed by water pollution debates and strained farmer relations
Oh Thérèse, how we … hardly knew you. Yes, after just one year, Thérèse Coffey resigned from her post as Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Her time as head of DEFRA won’t go down as one of the greatest political appointments – but over the past seven years I’m not sure what really can. Nevertheless, I thought it might be an idea to look back on the memories she leaves us with, and look forward to what is to come with the new appointee.
In September 2022, after campaigning for Liz Truss to be Prime Minister, the 52-year-old was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and given the role of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Weeks later, after the mini-Budget fiasco, she stood down from her position and was entrusted with the leadership of DEFRA by new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
She had a fairly abrasive first NFU conference meeting which didn’t endear her to the farmers in attendance, one of whom was The BV’s own George Hosford, who said in the March edition that she was ’grumpy and rude, not very well briefed, and completely failed to engage with the room.
’It was the poo wot dunnit
In fairness to Thérèse (here comes my Christmas goodwill), since then she worked hard to try and repair her relationship with farmers. In September she scrapped the deadline for the ceasing of culling badgers. In the same month she also announced that there was to be no ban on the herbicide Glyphosate, which some campaigners say is harmful to humans.
Despite the heroic efforts to reverse farmers’ opinions, Thérèse Coffey was always going to struggle to rebuild bridges with the public after poo-gate; her tenure has literally been littered with poo.
When she first took office in October 2022, she took massive criticism after she announced she would not be prioritising water pollution. This was topped off in February this year when she claimed that bathing waters were ‘much cleaner under the Tory government’.
Her proud point was rather diminished in August at the World Triathlon Championship Series in Sunderland, when 57 swimmers came down with sickness and diarrhoea after they swam in waters with high levels of E. coli.
Ultimately, it was her complacent attitude to tackling the water companies responsible for polluting our rivers and seas that did for Thérèse.
There is massive public anger about the quality of our water, but, with Coffey gone, can someone finally come in and make the change?
Well … at best it’s very unlikely, from what I can tell. Steve Barclay (who replaced Thérèse Coffey as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) is once again set to replace her, this time at DEFRA.
And why do I fear that Barclay will do nothing to finally take down the water companies?
Because his wife, Karen Barclay, is an executive of Anglian Water – a water company currently under investigation for illegally dumping raw sewage.
You couldn’t make it up!
Sadly, this is not a Christmas pantomime … this is just another example of 21st century politics.