Rather a strange set of issues at Defra Qs today, but then they often are. Ministers were asked about the plight of pigeon fanciers, the collapse of bee colonies (we're giving them £1.3 million), the rights of canoeists to access shorelines, and the amount spent to protect 4 great crested newts, which rendered Sir Nicholas Winterton apoplectic with rage. Best answer came to John Grogan's canoe question. He reminded the Chamber of Gordon Brown's phrase that Labour was "at its best when it was at its boldest". Junior minister, Jonathan Shaw, replied that he could certainly be bald, if not bold. (Well, it was funny at the time. Sadly Jonathan didn't get to answer the question about poultry farmers, so he couldn't repeat his "this is not a paltry issue" line, which was probably just as well).
It's always good when Tories conform to type and confirm all one's prejudices. Not only did we have Sir Nicholas doing his "stuff and nonsense" act about protecting endangered species, but they also reacted with outrage when I asked my first question about rising food prices. I asked the Secretary of State if he accepted that increased meat and dairy consumption was a factor, which was greeted with howls of "No! No!" from the benches opposite. I then asked if he agreed that more industrialised and intensive farming methods were not the solution, to cries of "Yes they are" and "So what's your solution?" (The answer to which, in all honesty, would be - go vegan - but I thought their blood pressure had been raised enough for one day.)
Later on we got to my question about a ban on seal products, which was also met by Tory groans. Admittedly the bunch of Tories who attend Defra questions are probably not the most enlightened representatives of their breed; they include the country squires, and MPs who represent pig, beef and dairy farmers, as well as the fox-hunting brigade. But it shows that Cameron still has a long way to go before he can claim to lead a cuddly Conservative party.
Of course, Cameron himself still supports fox-hunting, as the House was reminded at PMQs yesterday when Gordon Brown was asked what was being done to ensure that the hunting ban is properly enforced. Ann Widdecombe - who is pretty sound on animal welfare issues - is holding a meeting on this in Parliament the week after next, probably much to the disgust of many of her colleagues.