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Whatever the coalition’s future, the new DEFRA ministers are an improvement

On the Friday of The CLA Game Fair, I watched two ministers from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs ? Jim Paice MP and Richard Benyon MP ? chatting to people in the National Gamekeepers? Organisation tent. Both ministers seemed relaxed, as if they had dropped by at a neighbour?s house. They seemed to be at ease among their own kind.

The next day, I saw the secretary of state for DEFRA, Caroline Spelman MP arrive at the Game Fair. She had driven herself in a private car and arrived a bit later than planned because of the traffic.

What a contrast, I thought, to the causal arrogance of cabinet ministers in the previous Government. They used to arouse the ire of Londoners every time their police outriders cleared the traffic as the bulletproof ministerial cars swept past, like a scene outside the Kremlin in the Soviet era. There is nobody who feels quite so comfortable in a limo as a Marxist with a chauffeur.

Later, I happened upon the stand of the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG). This is an excellent organisation, helping farmers to help wildlife. I mooched in to have a chat with the person holding the fort. His morale was high because Jim Paice, the farming minister, had visited the stand the previous day. ?He just walked in, by himself, and we had a good chat,? enthused the FWAG person.

Under the previous Government, ministerial visits to The CLA Game Fair had a different tone. Every single Labour minister looked distinctly uncomfortable among ordinary country people. The chosen ones would sweep in for a mercifully brief interval, having been disgorged from the dark, air-conditioned depths of a limo ? or even a helicopter. No queuing among the ordinary taxpayers for these splendid personages. On a formal walkabout, they would be surrounded by a cordon of flunkeys and men in sharp suits with earpieces, who spoke into their cuffs as they scanned the crowd.

I?m not saying all Labour ministers were unpleasant ? but it was obvious that they only used to turn up because they?d been told to. It reminds me of that countryside march in London when that human weasel Alun Michael MP put himself at the head of the column and told the press that the event was a ?celebration of the countryside?.

If Gordon Brown ever attended a CLA Game Fair ? and I don?t think he has done ? one can only imagine what sort of remarks he might make in his car after shaking hands with a member of the fair-going public: ?What an awful, bigoted sort of woman. And what does she do with all those ferrets ? eat them??

I don?t know if the coalition will last. I don?t know how it will treat us in the forthcoming review of firearms legislation. But I do know that, in comparison with the last bunch, this lot are a breath of fresh air. Farming minister Jim Paice was a farm manager for 15 years. His DEFRA colleague Richard Benyon is a landowner and a qualified land agent. Both men shoot. The main DEFRA minister, Caroline Spelman, has a background in agriculture. Just compare this with the days when DEFRA was run by a socialist vegetarian from an inner city.

Don?t get me wrong ? these new ministers are not going to do us any actual ?favours?, in the strict sense of the word. Indeed, they will be sensitive to accusations of favouritism and we should take great care not to put them in a position where this charge could have any credibility.

Furthermore, the financial skeletons the previous Government left jangling in the cupboard mean we are all going to be affected, one way or another, by public sector cuts. It?s going to get ugly. But the mere fact that we will no longer be treated as ?unpeople? by the Government of the day marks a welcome change from 13 long, dark years of Labour misrule. And the turning point was there for all to see at The CLA Game Fair.

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