Thursday, May 13, 2010

Green Belt campaigner and serial expenses abuser is new Defra chief

Caroline Spelman has joined the Cabinet as one of the few women members and is the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Defra.

She is MP for Meriden in the West Midlands and was once the Conservative party chairman (Jul 2007 - Jan 2009) but was removed during the expenses scandal.

During that time she was forced to apologise and pay back £9,600 of Commons allowances she 'inadvertently' misused to pay her children's nanny.

She also faced questions over her Commons expenses after pocketing £40,000 to run her Georgian mansion, claiming it was her 'second' home - allowing her to claim a small fortune of taxpayers' cash for cleaning and bills - while her husband Mark claimed it was his main home during his unsuccessful bid to become a Conservative MEP in this month's European elections.

And she overclaimed £200 for council tax which she has paid back. She said it was a 'one-off administrative oversight'.

More recently she has kept well within her expenses limit.

Previous attitudes

According to They Work For You, she has voted "very strongly" for laws to stop climate change and for replacing Trident - opposing her new Liberal Democrat colleagues.

She also appears to have been confused about what to do with the House of Lords having voted both "strongly" against removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords and "strongly" for a wholly elected House of Lords.

Previous posts she has held are:

• Shadow communities and local government secretary since Jan 2009

• Shadow secretary of state for communities and local government (Dec 2005 - Jul 2007)

• Shadow secretary of state for local and devolved government (Mar 2004 - Dec 2005)

• Opposition spokesperson, environment and shadow minister for women (Nov 2003 - Mar 2004)

• Opposition spokesperson, international development (Sep 2001 - Nov 2003).

Why has she been chosen for Defra?

Defra says that before then Mrs Spelman had an extensive career in the agriculture sector, with fifteen years in the agriculture industry and in-depth experience of the international arena, including as deputy director of the International Confederation of European Beet Growers and a research fellow for the Centre for European Agricultural Studies.

She has also authored a book on the non-food use of agricultural products.

She has a particular interest in preserving the "green belt" and housing.

On her website she writes "Striking an appropriate balance between the sustainance of rural character and the allowance of urban growth is a particularly sensitive issue in the Meriden Constituency.

"I was elected with a pledge to try and defend the Green belt and find myself in a pitched battle with the Government's planning rules."

She has campaigned against ‘garden developments’ or ‘garden grabbing’, arguing that “Currently, gardens are not protected as ‘green space’, but are treated as ‘Brownfield land’. What is needed is clarification of the definition of ‘Brownfield Land’”.

This is something that I blogged about last week, as an area that the coalition will need to look at.

She introduced a Private Members’ Bill in Parliament at the end of 2006 which would protect these green spaces and adjust planning rules so as to take this need into consideration.

Hopefully this is something she is in a better position to see through now.

With her obvious lack of experience and questionable judgment she will need to sharpen up quickly, before she gets eaten by farmers and waste disposal engineers.

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