I’m told that the cabinet will meet in mid-July to make a final decision on whether to proceed with a badger cull in the south-west of England. For Caroline Spelman that could mark her third PR nightmare since Christmas.
First there was Forestry Commission sell-off, which David Cameron ruthlessly abandoned after an uprising by the general public.
Second there was the situation with circus animals, which Defra had claimed could not be banned because of the threat of an imminent legal action in Austria – culminating in a humiliating defeat in the Commons for the government on Thursday led by rebel backbencher Mark Pritchard.
Will badgers complete the hat-trick? It’s one of those classic issues where both sides have a highly convincing argument. The farmers (who have, I’m told, offered to underwrite the killing) believe that badgers have caused bovine TB among cattle herds and are pushing hard for the cull. But the animal welfare people want vaccination instead. They say there is insufficient scientific evidence for the cull working; and that it could be counter-productive. (As diseased badgers flee licensed gunmen they could carry TB into other areas).
Either way, killing thousands of brocks could create an awkward backlash among the public. Not killing them will enrage thousands of Tory-supporting farmers.
Like other, similar dilemmas, there is no right answer, and it is up to the cabinet to make a collective decision (although they will be presented with Spelman’s recommendation for going ahead). I’m told that the environment secretary is determined to get the announcement right to limit the political fall-out; that may be easier said than done.