Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The knives are out for Newbury MP Benyon

Oh dear! Newbury's Conservative MP and Defra Minister Richard Benyon keeps attracting negative headlines.

On the day his department introduced the hosepipe ban The People's investigative team discovered a 15ft hosepipe 'gushing in the grounds' of his family's £125m, 20,000-acre Englefield estate.

Mr Benyon responded in time-honoured fashion by threatening legal action, and filing complaints with Thames Valley Police over alleged trespassing on 6th April, as well as to the Press Complaints Commission for making false accusations.

According to the Press Gazette, Mr Benyon decided to get into a war of words with the tabloid, accusing the journalists of breaking into his grounds and turning on the hosepipe - claims categorically denied by The People.

Well, Mr Benyon is gracious enough to allow his magnificent gardens designed in 1601 by Sir William Norris to be opened to the public between 1st April and 31st October - provided members of the public pay a £3 charge!


Is the Defra Minister an ally of the countryside?

BBC Berkshire tries to get to the source: apparently the water minister didn't respond to enquiries at his mansion, or not until more than 1/2 hour after his head garden manager was informed that Mr Benyon was breaking the rules he is responsible for enforcing.

Mr Benyon released a statement saying, "Neither I, nor my family, nor anyone who works for me turned that hose on," adding the implication that the journalists were responsible, as they were seen in the vicinity. To which the response came, they couldn't have reported the incident to his staff if they weren't nearby.

Newbury Weekly News allows the local MP to gush forth defiantly: "I am comfortable with everything I've said in relation to the incident... I know where I stand." Yet The People says it may still seek legal action for the damage Mr Benyon has caused to the reputation of their cub reporter.

Well, he can definitely afford any damages, as George Monbiot picks up, the hardline Euro-sceptic tory rakes in more than £200,000 in annual CAP subsidies from the EU, though he refuses to respond to enquiries about this contradiction.

A further striking contradiction is noted by Michael McCarthy in The Independent, who picks out Mr Benyon's Who's Who entry listing his interests as 'conservation and shooting', whereas his department 'has been favouring shooting interests over conservation'.

He states his opinion that Mr Benyon has not been a bad minister, but while he's been making positive noises on the international front regarding the ivory trade and rhino poaching, he has been far less balanced and impartial on the domestic front, among other things, by blocking the prosecution of a private grouse moor for damaging protected bogland.

The Indy's environment editor follows up with a scorching attack against Mr Benyon for supporting a cull of buzzards - with shotguns - in order to protect pheasant stocks... for commercial shooting. His title is telling: Richard Benyon: The Bird-Brained Minister.

And in a leader comment the paper gives it's own final blast: "it is as outrageous as it is incredible."

George Monbiot rounds out a list of Benyon's bizarre decisions, locking his sights on the £375,000 which  will be wasted by DEFRA on the buzzard blitz and taking aim at another discrepancy over the supporting figures used by the minister.

Over at the RSPB's blog conservation director Martin Harper is understandable concerned, even taking time to read and quote some of the welter of negative comments on Mr Benyon's facebook page.

But it doesn't stop there...

Two fishy friends: Martin Salter (Lab) with Richard Benyon MP (Con)

Alarm bells are still ringing this week over ongoing backroom dealings regarding Common Fisheries Policy reforms, which would delay the repopulation of European fish stocks by 5 years, according to BBC Environment correspondent Richard Black.

fishnews.eu reports on Britain's NFFO (National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations) support for the decentralisation of fisheries management, and Greenpeace activist Alicia C promotes the 'Be A Fisherman's Friend' campaign supporting sustainable fisheries by urging the public to send a 'sea shanty petition' to Mr Benyon to remind him of his responsibilities as Defra minister.

Over at the Huffington Post, Shaughan Dolan is angered by the series of hypocritical decisions made by the Conservative MP for Newbury, asking "Is Benyon wilfully ignorant or just out of touch?"

He argues Mr Benyon's behaviour 'smacks of incompetence', that he 'profiteers from greenbelt destruction' and has a 'shambolic knowledge of countryside ecology'.

Shaughan suggests controversial Mr Benyon's position is becoming increasingly untenable with the growing  levels of discomfort caused to Prime Minister David Cameron - according to him, Mr Benyon is clearly unfit to be a minister for Defra.

Annabella Laws has started an official e-petition against Mr Benyon's proposed Pheasant protection scheme/Buzzard cull - you can read more and sign it here.

For the complete list of current e-petitions to Defra click here.

But the final word must go to Michael McCarthy who sums up the mood:
"it is a classic case of a minister so blinded by his personal enthusiasms that his political judgement deserts him completely."
 -

Update: Louise Gray at The Daily Telegraph reports that Defra has responded swiftly to public pressure and announced that it has shelved plans for a buzzard cull in what she calls 'an embarrassing U-turn'.

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