Credit: Ellie Foreman-Peck
Owen Paterson, the recently appointed Environment Secretary, is a total conservative. He's Eurosceptic. Hawkish against foreign threats and tough on domestic ones. Deregulatory on the economy. In favour of small government. Socially traditionalist — opposing, for example, gay marriage. Environmentally a conservationist: in love with Britain's countryside but sceptical about grand designs to change the global climate. He's undoubtedly the most conservative member of David Cameron's Cabinet. With the possible exception of Iain Duncan Smith he's the only senior British Tory who could easily win election if he stood on a Republican ticket in America.
In promoting Paterson David Cameron knew that he was taking a risk. He has his own mind and is prepared to speak it. Earlier this year he told the Cabinet that Britain needed to embrace the economic policies of Ronald Reagan. The coalition, he said, should exempt micro-businesses from nearly all regulation, cancel expensive green energy policies and fast-track the exploitation of shale gas. And if that wasn't enough to give the Prime Minister indigestion, Paterson then suggested that there was an urgent need to increase Britain's airport capacity. One observer noted how George Osborne smiled throughout this intervention while Liberal Democrat ministers sat stony-faced.
When he was promoted from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the September reshuffle it was portrayed as part of Cameron's "lurch to the Right" and there is certainly some truth to that. There is more to Paterson, however, than his politics. He's a gentleman, extraordinarily diligent and also quite cautious.
One frequent criticism of Paterson that you'll hear shoot-from-the-hip Tories making is that he's not a street-fighter for Conservative beliefs. Their definition of an effective co-belligerent is someone who is always in the newspapers, asserting his right-wing credentials and often making life uncomfortable for the leader. That's not Paterson's style and it has made him less visible to Tory activists than junior ministers who are all over today's 24/7 media.