By Tim Montgomerie
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In the fourth set of results from our end-of-year readers' survey Owen Paterson has been voted as the One To Watch in 2013. The man who succeeded Caroline Spelman as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was an overwhelming winner – garnering 53.3% of the more than 2,500 votes. The other three individuals nominated before Christmas received the following percentage of votes…
- Treasury minister and rising star Sajid Javid: 18.3%
- Education minister and free market thinker Liz Truss: 16.5%
- Backbencher Andrea Leadsom and her campaigning on Europe and children's welfare: 11.9%
I first got to know Owen during my two month stint as chief of staff to Iain Duncan Smith when the latter was leader and the former was his PPS. I should declare that we've become good friends since. In a recent profile of him for Standpoint magazine I said he had three key characteristics:
- "Total conservatism": "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." The Express' Patrick O'Flynn has already crowned him the new "charismatic" leader of the traditional right and wondered if he could be a future leader.
- Caution: "Cameron took a risk in promoting this deep-blue Tory but he also knew that it was not a leap into the unknown. Although Paterson is candid in private, Cameron sees him as a team player. Paterson may be a man of the Right but he's also very much a party loyalist. If he goes public with concerns — as he did last year, giving a very Eurosceptic interview in advance of Cameron's eventual veto of the fiscal union treaty — he only does so after enormous thought. He may reach conclusions that are sometimes disagreeable to people but he has always done so after careful research and reflection."
- Hard work: "In every brief he has held, whether at transport, agriculture or Northern Ireland, he has put in the hours. He has built deep and wide relationships with every stakeholder in each one of those portfolios."
I don't see Owen becoming Tory leader but I agree with the readers' choice of him as the One To Watch in 2013. He's going to be one of three Conservative ministers – Sajid Javid and John Hayes being the others – who will spearhead George Osborne's determination to deliver a more sensible energy and environment policy. I wish all three the best of luck.
> John Rentoul set out his own list of Tory MPs to watch in his Independent on Sunday column. He named "Sam Gyimah, 36; Matthew Hancock, 34; Jo Johnson, 40; Kwasi Kwarteng, 37; Dan Poulter, 34; and Anna Soubry, 56".
> The three other Picks of 2012 announced so far are Jesse Norman as Backbencher of the Year, Nick Clegg as Yellow B**tard of the Year and Boris Johnson's re-election as Conservative Achievement of the Year.