Peter Ainsworth, MP for East Surrey, explains his shadow cabinet role.
DEFRA, the Department which I shadow, used to be seen as a bit of a political backwater. It would occasionally find its way on the front pages. Usually for the wrong reasons – how could we forget the distressing images that were the subject of daily news during the Foot and Mouth outbreak? More recently there has been the furore over Avian Flu.
However, DEFRA is not just about handling (or mis-handling) crises. The protection and preservation of the environment has shot up to the top of the political agenda. The most immediate reason for this is the focus which David Cameron has given to green issues since becoming Conservative Leader. Readers who are local councillors (as I was before I was elected to Parliament) or grassroots activists will recognise that people really care about the quality of their surroundings. Local house-building plans; a proposal for an incinerator at the end of your street; flood risk; urban squalour, litter, graffiti, fly-tipping are things that really get the political adrenaline coursing. As Conservatives, we have always engaged on environmental issues, even if we have not always thought of them in this way.