New job - and constituency battle - for Bury MP Jo Churchill
- Credit: Paul Geater
Among the ministerial reshuffle that Boris Johnson put in place two weeks ago, one move that passed many by was Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill's shift from the Department of Health to the environment and rural affairs department, Defra.
She is the new Under Secretary of State (usually shortened to 'junior minister') for agri-innovation, resources and waste, animal welfare, and preparing the department's response to the COP26 world environmental conference due to take place in Glasgow next month.
It's a wide portfolio - but Mrs Churchill says there is a clear thread running through it, it's not just a case of areas that don't come under any other ministers!
She said: "This is real cutting-edge work that is vital for the future of how we produce food and also protect the environment for many years ahead.
"One of the things I am currently dealing with is gene editing in crops which could radically improve the way farmers around the world are able to produce food."
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Mrs Churchill said: "There is a world of difference between gene editing and genetic modification. Gene editing isn't about adding genes from other organisms, it's about making changes to the genes already there - making the kind of changes plant breeders have been doing for generations.
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"But it's done in a more scientific way and making it possible to produce more food especially in developing countries."
The preparations for the COP summit were now dominating much of her work - meaning she was having to work closely with other government colleagues both in her department and others.
She said this was vital to get more commitments to the net zero emissions targets by 2050.
But while her new role at Westminster is taking up much of her time, Mrs Churchill has been using the parliamentary conference recess to work in her Bury St Edmunds constituency.
It is the largest constituency in the county - and she has the largest Conservative majority in Suffolk, a fraction under 25,000.
However, there is no sign of complacency on her part - and there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future.
The Boundary Commission has proposed a major shake-up of Suffolk's constituencies and Bury St Edmunds is clearly in its sights because it is larger than most and facing more development.
Their proposals would effectively move the constituency west. At the present, Bury itself is on the western edge of a constituency that extends to Stowmarket and Needham Market.
Under the new proposals it would go from Bury to the west including Newmarket and Mildenhall - although Haverhill and the south-west corner of the county would go into a new constituency with Halstead in Essex.
Mrs Churchill emphasised the proposals were not a done deal: "We have been working on an alternative proposal. We know the constituency is very large - but there has been talk of combining with communities in Norfolk rather than Essex.
"As things are we are working on our current boundaries - the communities of Stowmarket and Needham Market are very important to me."
Mrs Churchill and her colleagues are not convinced the changes will be brought in by the next election - the earliest they could come in is during the summer of 2023 providing there are no parliamentary obstacles.
And there is speculation that Prime Minister could call a General Election in May 2023 - 18 months earlier than he needs - to avoid running to the end of his term. If that happens it would be fought on current boundaries.
Mrs Churchill was philosophical about the situation: "I don't know any more on the timing than anyone else - I can see why an early election might be called but that would mean four general elections in eight years."
Like the county's other MPs she stresses she is concentrating on matters in her current constituency - and foremost of them is the need for enough good quality affordable housing . . . and it is the plans for new homes across the area that is adding to the pressure for new constituency boundaries.