Parliament 8th May 2015

One of the longest-serving MPs, who devoted the lion’s share of his career to the rural sector, retired at this week’s election. Sir James Paice, who graduated from Writtle Agricultural College in 1970, put behind him 28 years as Conservative MP for SE Cambridgeshire. His service spanned five Prime Ministers, thousands of sitting days and votes, and two years as Minister of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2010 to 2012. He was also in shadow ministerial and other roles, at DEFRA, the Home Office and the then Department of Employment.

A maelstrom of highs and lows included the abrupt and untimely termination of his position as Secretary of State in a major Coalition reshuffle, after which he was inundated by cards and letters from farmers, thanking him for all he’d done as minister. He was knighted in 2012 in recognition of his public service. “The camaraderie, the hothouse of gossip, being in the thick of it, I will miss that,” he said recently.

Displaying unswerving loyalty to all his party leaders [“John Major really did have statesmanlike qualities… I think history will paint him in much better light”], he’s given little indication of how his life will be reshaped in the months and years to come. This is partly due to the ‘part-time’ job he took a year ago to ease himself into Civvy Street. As chairman of the British milk co-op First Milk, he found himself unenviably steering a failing leadership, announcing repeated milk price cuts to farmers and devoting what must have been far more than the time originally allotted to the battle to keep the business afloat at a critical time for its long-suffering members and the dairy sector as a whole.

Sir Jim’s political skills have been credited with steering the business profile during its commercial debacle. He’s been its principle spokesman and out talking to farmers – while weathering criticism for adopting this role while still an MP.

Meanwhile, after 18 years as an MP, various shadow ministerial roles, almost five years steering the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee and challenging ministers and industry pundits, Anne McIntosh (Con, Thirsk and Malton) stepped down after failing to be reselected for her constituency.

Tenacious, opinionated and frequently prepared to stick her neck out, Ms McIntosh led the EFRA committee into a wide range of rural sector inquiries, ranging from dairy to broadband, laying hens to the CAP, and floods to the Common Fisheries Policy. Her mixed Scottish/Danish roots gave her extra insight to an eclectic range of issues, and a ready track into Europe, and particularly, Brussels, where she had earlier political experience.

As for the future, will DEFRA (and the committee) even survive in their current form?

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