Time to Put Chemical Farming Indoors by Chris Rose

I’m republishing this (with permission) from Chris Rose’s Three Worlds blog.

 

Time to put Chemical Farming Indoors

A current side-effect of the prospect of Brexit is that Britain’s* green, countryside and wildlife groups are in an unusual fever of activity.  A quite frantic process of policy formulation is underway as they scramble to try and influence what Brexit might mean for Britain’s farming, because Brexit means decoupling UK agriculture from the infamous Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  Yet unless they are prepared to play much harder politics than they have for decades, and are a lot more radical in their proposals so that they engage a much wider slice of society, it is well-nigh certain that the promise of the moment will simply be lost.  For much of our wildlife, Brexit would still probably mean exit.

 

The Smart Money Must Be on Business as Usual

Dozens of NGOs are meeting in layers of committees and networks convened by the Green Alliance and others.  They will cook up proposals which will no doubt include well-researched wish-lists of what should be done: rather more of this, quite a bit less of that.  Yet at the same time and without fanfare, the dark suited officials of the Treasury, without whom in the end nothing much will be done, are in frequent contact with the brown-shoed reps of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the slightly more dapper folk from the Country Landowners Association (CLA), to discuss practicalities.

I hear that No 10 has signalled to the ‘green groups’ that it is interested in ‘innovative’ ideas for the future of the 70% of the country under agriculture, and not simply cheaper ideas.   A cynic might suggest that keeping the NGOs busy developing innovative ideas has the twin benefits of stopping them causing trouble, and at the same time possibly coming up with a few eye-catching embellishments to policy which prove Brexit had a green lining after all.  The smart money must be on an outcome which is close to Business as Usual.

Government does not need to seize this inter-generational opportunity for change if it does not want to, and at the moment I doubt it feels it needs to.   I’m told that some arch Brexiteer politicians privately say it would be relatively simple to pass a law which simply carries over most of the EU CAP systems of farm support albeit with different names for programmes.  This would avoid a spat over ‘farming’ becoming an obstacle in the bigger, more headline-grabbing Brexit negotiation tangles over things like immigration, free movement and market access.

There certainly are Conservative politicians who would like to see a radical change towards more ‘sustainable’ forms of agriculture, and there are Conservative advocates for a Natural Capital approach, and some who would agree with the former Conservative Minister who pithily described CAP as ‘the engine of destruction’.  Yet pro-nature, pro-conservation reform of the countryside is nowhere close to being a government priority.  De-coupling from CAP to go green on farming and countryside is not an opportunity government currently needs or wants to take.

If the CAP was being radically reformed without Brexit, it would be different.  That would be the main game.  But it is not.  The main game for the UK Conservative Government is engineering a Brexit they can sell, and in that, countryside, farming and wildlife is a very small side-show.  So just because this is the biggest thing that has happened in the agri-environmental world for decades, does not necessarily mean it’s really a big opportunity, unless it becomes a problem the government needs to solve with a change of course.  Well-mannered wish lists will not be disruptive.

Three Things That Need To Happen

To my mind three things are needed in order for any Brexit process to catalyse a significant shift towards a radically better UK farming and countryside policy.  They need to come together but are to reset the purpose of public agriculture policy in the modern public interest, to end chemical and energy intensive as a failed experiment with no place in the wide outdoors, and to democratize decision making about the countryside.

A Modern Public Interest Purpose for Farming and Countryside Policy

When it was invented, support of farm incomes through price support, and the consolidation of holdings and subsidy of infrastructure changes (eg pull up hedges) so that farms could modernize and make use of new inputs of energy, fertiliser and chemicals, was seen as in the public interest.   It’s not now.

So policy should be reset is based on an updated test of the public interest, one that requires gains not losses in ecological and human health:  better ecosystem function (eg progressively less chemical pollution and climate changing emissions) and more wildlife, rather than the current payment for farmers-to-be-farmers, which mainly means farming-as-usual.   I call it net ecological gain.   This is an elite level argument but one where a much wider range of NGOs than just the countryside and wildlife groups have some standing, as channels and representatives of the wider public interest.

Containment of Intensive Farming

Second comes a complete break with chemical-intensive and energy-intensive farming.  The 1960-70s style ‘green revolution’ of intensification is an experiment which has proved a largely unmitigated disaster, and it needs to be ended.  As a Friends of the Earth pesticides campaigner in the early 1980s, I met large numbers of people at the sharp end of intensive chemical farming:  for instance people whose health had been ruined by exposure to farm sprays, sometimes just by living or walking in the countryside; doctors concerned at rates of rural cancers; others whose homes and gardens had been contaminated, and one memorable group of intensive arable farmers who were taking turns to grow food to feed their own families, without the use of chemicals, because they were so worried about the pesticides they used commercially.   It seemed to me that this was an industrial chemical process allowed to be conducted outdoors, simply because society, especially the media and politicians, still saw rural areas as benign and pre-industrial because they looked ‘green’.

 

Society was promised more precision biological pest control such as ‘Integrated Pest Management’, and high tech, less polluting agrochemical applications such as systemic insecticides which would stay inside a living plant.  That’s where we got the now notorious neonicotinoid pesticides for which there is abundant evidence that they have been eliminating bees and very likely many other insects, and are all over the place in the environment, cycling through soil and water and living things.   As the recent UK State of Nature report demonstrated, the massive loss of bees, butterflies, moths, wild plants and birds has not stopped but overall gets worse, year on year.  We have shifted from ‘the problem’ mostly being outright habitat destruction such as grubbing up old hedgerows and meadows, partly because there are very few left to destroy.  Now the problem includes a countryside infused with pollution from artificial fertiliser which itself is eliminating natural diversity of plants and pollinators, plus the vast greenhouse emissions of intensive agriculture, and the prophylactic application of herbicide, fungicide and insecticide which is sterilising and polluting the countryside, for example with 20 applications on a single crop.

 

Seeing the impact of CAP, it has been reformed by the EU.  Structural or “Pillar 2” funds have been redirected into ‘agri-environment’ schemes.   Sometimes valiant and sometimes frankly tokenistic attempts have been made to use these funds to mitigate against the combined effect of technology x chemicals x energy, all underpinned by price support and then farm payments, but overall they have failed.  Not really surprising when such ‘agri-environment’ funds make up only 20% of the total farm subsidies, and are relatively recent, and the progressive sterilisation of farmland has left many farmers ignorant of wildlife and wild plants that would have been known and understood by their grandparents.

If intensive chemical farming is needed, then like other hazardous industrial processes, it should be only done indoors, where it can be properly monitored and controlled, with zero emissions.  Let he agrochemical industry find ways to make a profit from that, maybe by converting from being bulk chemical providers to fine chemicals, service providers and even industrial farmers themselves.  Any outdoor farming, including organic, should have to prove itself to be ecologically not just benign but beneficial.

 

Ironically, much leading edge food production is already moving indoors, although usually without much if any use of chemicals, and driven by market forces and consumer concerns over health, environmental impact, limited resources such as water, and animal welfare.  Examples include ‘Vertical Farms’, ‘Z-farming’, the rapidly growing creation of meat substitutes and foods catering for Flexitarians, vegans and vegetarians.  Many of these are proven technologies in a world of start-ups and emerging consumer trends, noticed by supermarkets but largely ignored by the conventional farming, countryside and the wildlife policy community.

Democratization Of Countryside Policy

Third, and essential to bring about the above, we need to change who gets to make decisions about the 70% of Britain which is ‘countryside’.  Not just to enfranchise the 80% who live in towns and cities but the over 99% who do not own or control farms.  Only 0.45% of the UK population are farmers.  A mere 0.25% of the people own the countryside.  Yet this is the public realm, and their incomes are hugely reliant on public subsidy.  What’s missing is something that NGOs could do something to help bring about: ways to engage the 99.5% who neither own nor control their countryside.

This wider public does think it has something to say and a right to say it, concerning ‘Green Belt’.  That’s because the British version of Green Belt is a development-planning mechanism and planning is not left to whoever happens to be a big property developer or landowner.  We don’t let the Duke of Westminster decide how to run London.  We should not let farmers and landowners substitute for democracy in deciding the future of the countryside just because they happen to own it or farm it.

A decade ago I suggested a system of ‘Countryside Contracts’ through which groups of farmers might do a legally binding deal with groups of non-farmers to farm their land in ways that both could live with.  Community Supported Agriculture is another example.  Many other ‘crowd sourced’ formats might be possible.   Elected Local Authorities might become the conduits for public funds for farming and land use, starting for example where the public interest in land use is heavily recreational as in National Parks or where better flood prevention is important.

Unlocking Other Forces

If you took these changes together; the public interest purpose of policy, a containment of intensive farming, and a democratization of who gets to decide the countryside, then many other interests could come into play.   For one thing, it could free up a lot of land for other purposes, many of which could help solve political problems, such as places to build new homes.  (Fortunately the popularity of golf courses is waning).

 

‘Rewilding’ could also benefit.  Thanks to Friends of the Earth I recently I visited the amazing Knepp rewilding project in Sussex, started by the remarkable Charlie Burrell back in 2001.  With growing populations of wildlife such as nightingales and turtle doves which are still vanishing in almost all of the countryside including on most of the ‘conservation estate’ run by NGOs, Knepp is inspirational and arguably, an embarrassment to the conservation establishment.  The supply of landowners like Charlie Burrell is limited but more important, the rewilding concept has the Zeitgeist: it captures a public interest demand in a simple sounding concept which many of the 99.5% instinctively love.  Yet so far their leverage on this wider debate about possible post Brexit post CAP farming is effectively zero.  Sounding off about rewilding is one thing but channelling that energy into a concrete demand could make a real difference.  Ecological guru E O Wilson recently called for 50% of the planet to be set aside to save 80% of the remaining wildlife in the world.  How about  50% of our farmland, which is 35% of the UK ?

 

Conclusion

If the coming environmental proposals for a post-Brexit UK countryside and farming policy are not  simply to be ploughed under, the conservation groups have to disrupt the transition of Business as Usual which the NFU and CLA have been lobbying for in Whitehall with all the vigour of recently released beavers.

This is the NGOs moment to involve the country, not just their members and certainly not just their experts.  The CAP-shedding aspect of Brexit may be an unexpected Christmas for countryside policy wonks but without popular and activated political backing they may end up playing the turkeys.

I am not that optimistic about the UK NGOs pulling off a major coup and really redirecting national policy on farming and the countryside although if they did, it could inspire similar changes in the rest of Europe, even if Brexit happens.

A significant internal problem is the competition between NGOs.  The National Trust for example, as the elephant of the pack with its four million members and itself the biggest farmer in the country, has got in early and issued a six point list of principles.  These are not bad and probably radical by internal National Trust terms in that they imply that some of its own farmland will go over to nature, and they explicitly call for no public money to be spent that does not pay for ‘public goods’ and that ‘basic income support payment should be removed’.  Their list has enraged the NFU but will not be noticed by the wider public: some much sharper demands are needed that affect how the 99.5% live, and the countryside they see, in ways non-experts can understand.

Other big players like the RSPB might also be tempted not to wait for the swathe of smaller groups to agree on a common set of demands, and so produce its own wish list.  The difficulty is less that these lists don’t ‘add up’ but more that it drains the energy of their joint lobby.

A further issue is that the established conservation and wildlife groups – much less so other NGOs which may get involved – make themselves beholden to the ‘goodwill’ of farmers.  In reality the ‘good farmers’ they actively work with and promote are at best a few percent of the total.  Great though these people are, this too often ends up meaning that the NGOs are terrified of opposing the NFU.

Finally, rehearsing and dusting down the old arguments will not disrupt the process and so make a radical shift a possibility.  Unless civil society has something new to say, and enough of the groups get behind a few new ideas which have public resonance, they will not create the political problem which requires the government to listen to people, the 99.5%, rather than to just the NFU and the CLA.

* Actually for Britain read UK as all this includes Northern Ireland which while not ‘Britain’ is part of the UK

chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk

Posted in agriculture, Brexit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Rampisham Down Saved?

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Rampisham Down Radio Mast ©Miles King

There has been some good news about Rampisham Down and its future. The developers British Solar Renewables have resubmitted their proposals to develop a smaller (but still highly profitable) solar farm on arable land adjacent to the SSSI, so that they can make use of the high voltage electricity connection to the national grid – which was there to supply electricity to the Short Wave Radio Transmitting Station, and was one of the things that made Rampisham Down so attractive as a  site for a Solar Farm in the first place.

When they originally submitted this application for land adjacent to the SSSI, they had not ruled out going to Public Inquiry (due to start this month) to win the argument so they could develop on the SSSI. Things have changed.

In the  revised application they now state that they will mitigate the impact of the new Solar Farm by removing all but three of the remaining Masts; remove or mitigate the impact of the Solar infrastructure already installed on the SSSI; conclude the pending agreement of the SSSI management strategy and landscape restoration plan for the SSSI.

So the developers have accepted that, in order for them to get permission to build their smaller solar farm across the road, they will not proceed with the development on the SSSI. To show willing, BSR have also asked for the Public Inquiry to be put “on hold”, according to Natural England. This is good news all round, as Public Inquiries are very expensive and organisations like Natural England and Dorset Wildlife Trust have better things to do with their funds.

What could possibly have led to such a change of heart from British Solar Renewables? Could the leading players have seen the light and recognised that it was the epitome of unsustainable business practice and hypocrisy to destroy a national wildlife treasure, in order to create some low carbon energy? Possibly, but there are other alternatives.

Regular readers may remember that the pro-Rampisham propaganda site http://www.rampishamdown.com had gone “off air” earlier this year. It turns out that the reason for this was because the people running it, under the guise of Community Heat and Power (a wholly owned subsidiary of British Solar Renewables) had had some sort of falling out with BSR, and left. Shortly afterwards BSR founder Angus MacDonald was removed from, or voluntarily left, the board of the business. The key players who had so bullishly promoted the solar farm at Rampisham Down were no longer on the field.

This is all good news and the people now in charge at BSR should be praised for their sensible approach, to work with Natural England to find a way forward which satisfies their business need (to develop a solar farm that can provide a good return on the investment made by purchasing Rampisham Down and its grid connection) and society’s need to protect national heritage for all our benefits.

This does rather a few questions in my mind unanswered. What does the distinguished former director of Kew Gardens Professor Ghillean Prance, think about the new development? He was happy to go on public record stating that the solar farm on the SSSI would help restore the “severely damaged” grassland. Given that the new solar farm will be smaller than the original plan, and go on arable land (removing its capacity to produce cereal crops) is this a concern for him? Is he worried that the much vaunted experiments into the impact of shading by solar panels on semi-natural grassland have been long abandoned (and thereby shown up for the greenwash they always were).

What about local District Councillor Jill Haynes, who was so enthusiastic with her support for the original scheme. Will she welcome or condemn this new proposal, given that it is a smaller development than the one she had championed.

It would be great to get some comments from either of these people. While we’re waiting for their views, I suggest that as many people as possible get behind the revised application for the new solar farm. You can comment directly to West Dorset District Council here.

The important thing is that the Council must ensure that the application is only given permission on the basis that a legal agreement is drawn up between BSR and Natural England over the future management (ie no development of the SSSI) of Rampisham Down.

Posted in Rampisham Down, renewable energy, Solar Farms | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Nature of our State

I was looking forward to attending the State of Nature launch, but decided in the end to stay at home at get on with some writing that is now becoming urgent. But despite my noble intentions, I became swept up in the excitement and spent too much time on social media, debating what it all meant.

The State of Nature report shows what we already know, that our nature is disappearing, particularly from farmed landscapes. I’d go further and suggest nature has disappeared (to all intents and purposes) from many farmed landscapes. I read through the report and saw ever more detailed analysis of data stretching back decades. There really is no question about what has happened or is happening. If I had one gripe with the report, it is that, once again, the focus is all on birds and mammals. Practically all of the case studies, that make up the bulk of the report, apply to these two groups. Even the photo released for use with the story was of a hedgehog. It’s a great image, laden with symbolism.

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When the BBC reported it, they felt duty bound to provide “balance”, getting the NFU to respond. NFU responded in typical manner – misdirection (it’s predators), obfuscation and denial. NFU attacked the report for suggesting that farming was continuing to intensify. NFU vice president Guy Smith claimed:

“However, since the early 1990s, in terms of inputs and in terms of numbers of livestock and area of crops grown British agriculture has not intensified – in fact it’s the reverse. Therefore it makes little sense to attribute cause and effect to ‘the intensification of agriculture’ in the UK in the last quarter of a century when there hasn’t been any.”

Reading through the State of Nature report, there is no mention of intensification of farming, though evidently it was discussed in the interviews. So NFU created a straw man to knock down. Farming isn’t getting more intensive – its the opposite, therefore farmers must be the custodians of nature now. But of course that depends on how you define intensification. Weight for weight, less insecticides are used now than 30 years ago, but that’s because neonicotinoids are so deadly they are only used in tiny amounts, not sprayed on to whole plants, but as a coating for seeds, which are then spread throughout the plant as it grows. And ever more damning evidence points to the impact of Neonics on insect populations, with obvious knock on effects for insect eating birds and mammals. Glyphosate use has increased by 400% in the last 20 years.  Even if you aren’t convinced that glyphosate is toxic to people (wait for this health time bomb to go off) the impact of this huge increase in its use across the 25% of the UK which is under arable crops, is profound. What few wild plants of arable landscapes that had survived the years of rapid intensification (from the 1950s to 1980s) are now subject to another dose of poison to finish them off.

It strikes me that the BBC should not be providing the NFU the opportunity to use these tactics to undermine the sound science behind the State of Nature report, in the name of “balance”. This tactic was used for decades by Climate Change deniers to undermine the science behind Climate Change. Eventually, after much procrastination, the BBC decided to change its editorial guidance and remove the opportunity for spurious (and malign) challenges to Climate Change science. It’s about time they started applying this “false balance” approach to organisations like the NFU.

But the NFU are far cleverer and have been in the game for longer than anyone else. It can be no coincidence that, on the same day as the State of Nature report was launched, the NFU launched its Back British Farming campaign. They literally parks their tanks ie tractors, on Parliament’s lawn, the grass of Parliament Square. That is a masterclass in the exercise of soft power, if ever I saw one. But they didn’t stop there.

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After the Prime Minister and Environment Secretary had their photos taken in front of the tanks, I mean tractors, the NFU then handed out wheat lapel pins to as many MPs as they could find, in advance of Prime Minister’s Questions. So those of us who were watching, were greeted with visions like this – Craig Williams of Cardiff North proudly showing the country his support for British Farming.

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The wheat sheaf or wheat ear is a very powerful symbol and has been used throughout history because of its power and depth of meaning.

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From Roman times, here’s Persephone/Demeter/Ceres/Proserpina rising up from the ground holding ears of wheat (and poppies).

The RSPB and their partners in the State of Nature report, presented an excellent, well argued case, backed up with evidence so strong that it cannot be denied.

And the NFU said “Back British Farming”, which in itself means nothing – who would even argue that Britain shouldn’t grow food? And who else would do this than farmers (though the NFU’s vision of farming and farmers is a very narrow one)?

To focus merely on the words misses the point. The NFU used the power of imagery and symbolism to show the political power they wield, to embed in the mind’s of politicians, the media, and even the public, that they are the people to talk to, they have the answers, they have the deep, almost mystical understanding of how things grow, and how we are kept alive and nourished with food. It’s no surprise that organised religion started at the same time as farming and those deep layers of meaning, belief and mysticism around how food is grown (and who grows it) still lie within us all.

Posted in agriculture, NFU, RSPB, State of Nature, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 25 Comments

‘Look but don’t pick’ – Wild Mushrooms and the Forestry Commission; Guest blog by Peter Marren

I am delighted to publish this guest post from Peter Marren, conservationist, author and fungi expert.

 

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Chanterelles, Horn of Plenty and many other Fungi are collected all across Continental Europe.

The Forestry Commission has decided to ban the picking of wild fungi in the New Forest. A press release to that effect was despatched and most of the dailies duly reported the ban, uncritically and with approval. The Guardian even found a respected mycologist to say that, in her opinion, picking was harmful. There seems to be a presumption that picking mushrooms is like picking wild flowers – something to be discouraged in this conservation-conscious age. I doubt the FC would have gone so far without a sense that it carries public opinion with it.

Such are opinions. But what about facts? You could spend a long time trawling the scientific literature for evidence that picking is harmful without finding a jot of support. I know this because I did, for my book Mushrooms, which contains a chapter on the picking controversy. Trampling causes damage, yes; damaging the soil profile (an FC speciality), yes; but picking, no. On the contrary, there is quite a lot of evidence that picking, even regular, heavy picking, has no detrimental effect at all. Many woods in Eastern Europe are raked over for fungi on a scale as great as anywhere in Britain and the effect on the next year’s crop seems to be zero. In Oregon a long-term project to assess the effect of picking on one of the New Forest’s target edible species, the Chanterelle found that, after ten years, there was ‘no statistically significant correlation between sporocarp [i.e. the fruiting body] removal and productivity’. In other words picking had no discernible effect whatever. The FC sees such evidence as ‘conflicting’. On the contrary, it looks pretty clear-cut to me.

So, why doesn’t the FC find something better to do, such as managing its forests properly? The answer seems to be that it wants to swim with the current. Foraging, especially of wild fungi, has been given a bad name by stories, reported in the papers with lurid details, of gangs of pickers, often from countries in Eastern Europe with a long tradition of family foraging, who supposedly hoover up every mushroom in sight. But since there are only a dozen or so species gathered for food out of some 2,700 species identified from the New Forest, picking every mushie in sight would be fantastically inefficient. Moreover none of the foraging groups that use the Forest regularly have ever witnessed such a thing. No doubt it happens but the ‘damage’ they do is out of all proportion to the anger it provokes. So an outright ban might look justified, and might even be popular.

It might be worth reminding people that it is the fate of most mushrooms to be eaten, not by human beings but by slugs, maggots, mice and other fauna. Even in the New Forest only a tithe of a percent goes down human gullets. What we do is simply not significant in the survival of wild fungi. It is also worth noting that most of the edible ones are long-lived and that, for them, spores are more in the nature of a long-term insurance policy. Like perennial plants, they do not depend on an annual replenishment. Only a tiny, almost infinitesimal fraction of spores will ever germinate into a fungus.

What the ban will do is to criminalise the minority of harmless, pleasant people who enjoy foraging in the autumn Forest, and those locals who enjoy picking a few chanterelles or blewits for breakfast. Since identifying fungi generally requires microscopic examination, it will presumably discomfort mycologists too. Those 2,700 species are unlikely to become 2,701 unless the FC is pretty free with its licences (welcome to yet more bureaucracy!). From now on those found with a loose mushroom on their person can expect a ticking off from ‘FC staff’, the confiscation of said fungus and its ‘return to the Forest’ (I ask you!). Repeat offenders may face a charge. The FC claims it is ‘appealing to people to support a no-picking code’, but it isn’t as if people have any choice in the matter. The FC is not really appealing but demanding with threats. Whether they have the legal justification to do so is another matter. It admits that there is nothing specific in the by-laws to forbid the picking of fungi. And, given that much of the Forest is a Common with universal access, the Theft Act might not apply either. When, years ago, the FC tried to prosecute an old lady for picking mushrooms it ended up with egg all over its face and a six-figure bill (footed by the taxpayer of course).

What are we missing now that picking fungi is banned? Fun, I would suggest, followed by knowledge, health and outdoor adventure. Foraging brings you close to nature, which is generally regarded as a very good thing, physically and mentally. Foragers care about the natural world and are usually very knowledgeable about it. They are natural conservationists. The Forestry Commission, on the other hand, spent many decades destroying the natural soil profiles and native woodland of the Forest to plant their unloved Christmas trees. Taking lessons in conservation from them is a little like taking tips on orphan adoption from King Herod.

The danger is that the process will not stop here. The ban is supported by the National Trust and the New Forest National Park Authority. It is easy to imagine pressure building up for the extension of similar bans on National Trust land and other National Parks, and even on SSSIs in general. We live in a world of neo-Puritans who seem as happy to ban harmless fun as the Roundheads were to ban Christmas. Moral justification seems more powerful than knowledge and evidence.

Nature is there for looking, not touching. The Forestry Commission says so, and that, it seems, is final.

Posted in Forestry Commission, guest blogs, Peter Marren, wild food | Tagged , , , | 33 Comments

Blog update

Some of you will have noticed that I have not written anything on here for a little while. We were on holiday in the mountains of Austria and since returning, it has been very busy.

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The Rätikon mountains above the Montafon valley, Austria. © Miles King

I am really pleased to say that I have lots of work to do for People Need Nature, including keeping the social media presence fresh – for example here and here. Please go and take a look, there are some interesting things on there.

This means I will have far less time to write on here, or spend hours every day on Twitter. The latter is undoubtedly a good thing. While I enjoy writing these posts, I don’t get paid for them, and I have to earn a living.

I will write the occasional post on here for the foreseeable future, though these are more likely to be longer pieces on particular issues, rather than commenting on things in the news.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Andrea Leadsom: “farming.. is a bedrock of.. the environment”. Err…

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New Defra Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom has sent a statement to Farmers Weekly, the farming newspaper. Although the paper has not published the full statement, here are the quotes it uses:

“Nothing is more important than the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink”.

“On 23 June, the people of this country voted to leave the European Union and we must now carry out their instruction,” she said.

“I believe this give us an unparalleled chance to design a set of policies that are tailored to the needs of the UK, rather than 28 different member states. We must seize the opportunities that lie ahead.”

The Secretary of State said the UK should work with our European neighbours “so that we get the best terms for the industry”.

“My ministers and I will lead from the front in these negotiations, championing the industry and all that it has to offer.

“Britain is a truly great country that has always thrived and prospered on the world stage. We have always been a leading economic power, opening markets and championing free trade across the world. And with your top-quality products, drive and innovation, we will continue to do so.”

She said farming was central to our national identity and important to local communities.

“Food and farming generates more than £100bn/year for our economy, while managing nearly three-quarters of the UK’s land. The sector is a bedrock of our economy and environment.

“So while much of our focus will understandably be on the future of farming when we leave the EU, we will not lose sight of the challenges we face now, such as low farm prices, the shortage of skills and apprenticeships and of course the scourge that is bovine TB.”

Speaking about the interregnum, which could be two or more years, she made the obvious point that the UK was still part of the EU and it would be “business as usual”.

“The current arrangements for food, farming and the environment remain in place. Farmers will continue to receive their support payments”

“Our continued investment in state-of-the-art science and technology is making our farmers among the most efficient and productive in the world.

“We are recognised as a global hub of agricultural research, leading the way in finding solutions to some of the world’s greatest agricultural challenges.

“The Great British brand is stronger than ever, renowned across the globe for its quality, innovation and tradition.

“Whether it’s English cheese, Scotch whisky, Welsh lamb or Northern Irish beef, people want to buy our products. International trade is at the heart of our economy.”

Mrs Leadsom said the UK had a real opportunity to forge strong economic links with our European neighbours, as well as our friends in North America, the Commonwealth and other countries around the world.

“As we draw up our plans, it is vital we harness your knowledge, experience and common sense. We will make sure your voices are heard,” she said.

“While there is much to be done, I am enthusiastic and positive about the task ahead. British farming has a proud heritage and by working together, we can ensure it has an even greater future.”

So, not much if anything new here – I have already laid out what she has already said, here.

What is interesting is the tone and what she has not said.

She claimed farming as “the bedrock” of the environment, which is of course precisely the opposite of the truth.

Her emphasis is on free trade, productivity, technology, research and brand.

Communities were mentioned only once, which will do little to calm the nerves of upland communities, utterly dependant as they currently are,  on farm subsidies.

She said nothing about the need to protect soil, or nature, or that farmers needed to play a key role in mitigating the effects of, and adapting to climate change. On the plus side she avoided mentioning any need to “feed the world”.

But she did specifically mention the “scourge” of Bovine TB. That sounds to me like a signal that more badger cull areas will be announced soon.

Photo by Policy Exchange – Flickr: Andrea Leadsom MP, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30212884
Posted in agriculture, Andrea Leadsom, Defra | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Theresa May places muzzle on Brexit cheerleader & Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson.

jackson

Stewart Jackson attacks Labour after narrow win in 2015 general election

So Stewart Jackson has been given a job in Government (again). Jackson is now on the lowest rung of the Governmental ladder, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Brexit Minister David Davis. He had previously briefly reached the same position, as spear carrier to Owen Paterson, when he was at the Northern Ireland Office, in 2011.

blocked by jacko

 

 

 

 

Having recently discovered that I, along with many others apparently, have been blocked on twitter by Peterborough MP Jackson, I thought you would be interested to see a short history of  his recent tweets.

Shortly after the Brexit vote,  journalist (of the right) Rupert Myers, made a perfectly reasonable comment that the Brexit side had been untruthful on number of key points during the campaign, but now expected those who didn’t believe the lies, to be cheerful about the result.

Jackson replied

“suck it up whiner….”

this is fairly normal for Jackson who is known for his rudeness and generally priggish behaviour  (I had the misfortune to meet him during my short stay with Buglife). Harry Potter author J K Rowling then retweeted Jackson’s abuse to her followers – 13,100 of whom retweeted it, I among them.  For this, it would seem (for I had not sought to directly engage with Jackson on anything that I can recall) I was blocked.

One wonders whether he has a social media intern, day after day drudgingly working their way through all 13,000 twitter users and blocking them.

rowling comments on suck it up whiners

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jackson was clearly cock-a-hoop about the Brexit vote – he has been attacking the EU at least as long as he has been an MP, probably far longer. He started to lay into those who he felt were traitors to the cause, people like former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who had rather unenthusiastically campaigned for Remain. Jackson (a back bench MP) consigned Hammond to the political scrap heap on the Sunday after the Referendum, claiming that Cameron had tried to woo Boris to the remain side by offering him Hammond’s job at Foreign Affairs.

jacko hammond quote

 

 

Given that Boris has indeed now got the Foreign Secretary role, albeit a shrivelled version, with international trade lopped off one side, and Brexit negotiations lopped off the other, might suggest Jackson had some sort of clairvoyant skills. Jackson could not possibly have predicted it would be Theresa May giving Boris that poisoned chalice though, nor that Hammond would be her right hand man at Number 11. That’s Politics!

Jackson also had May in his sights, a couple of days later. He had spotted a plot to install “remainer” Theresa May, by the old guard of the party, viz Lord Heseltine and Ken Clarke, plus John Major’s old flame Egwina Curry, and of all people, Blair’s enforcer Alistair Campbell. It’s a tinfoil hat conspiracy worthy of the most wild-eyed Corbynite. Clearly the May-Campbell brigade were going to ditch Brexit and we were all going to be living in Remainia.

jacko may abuse

 

For Jackson, May was another traitor – after Boris was stabbed by Gove, Jackson fell in behind Andrea Leadsom.

wacko supports leadsom

 

Leadsom was “excellent”, “principled” and with “real world experience”. Leadsom and Jackson are both members of the Fresh Start group of Tory MPs who would happily privatise their own grandmothers if they could. The “real world experience” Jackson had accrued before becoming an MP included working for Lloyds bank for ten years in the run up to the banking crash of 2007. Which means that Jackson was a bank manager in central London (and a small business manager)during the time when Lloyds was busy lending money to some people and businesses who had no chance of being able to pay it back. At the same time Lloyds were mis-selling payment protection insurance to people taking out mortgages – Lloyds had to set aside £3.6Bn to repay them once they (along wth other banks) had been found out. In the end it was the Labour Government which stepped in and acquired 41% of Lloyds group to save it from going bust. Jackson had already left by then. Of course it’s ridiculous to lay the blame on Jackson for the global financial crisis, but it does illustrate what his “real world” experience was, before becoming an MP.

Jackson was right behind Andrea Leadsom, as he had been part of the team, with fellow Brexiteer Liam Fox, who campaigned for David Davis as Tory Leader in 2005, when David Cameron surprised everyone and won. He tweeted from her launch event

“Leadsom outlying her strong case to be leader…”

wacko unfortunate mis-spell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given Leadsom’s err imaginative embellishment of her CV, Jackson’s typo  was unfortunate.

On the same day, Jackson indicated where he sits on the political spectrum (not for the first time), retweeting a list of supposed Remain “lies” from a UKIP local council candidate, who peddled some untruths of his own in the run up to the Referendum eg this one on clean beaches and the EU.

wacko on the ukip edge of tories

 

 

After the shock announcement that Leadsom was pulling out of the race to be Tory leader, Jackson, seamlessly moved to back Theresa May, as if she was the one for him all along.

wacko now supports May!

 

He then kept up the barrage of pro-May tweets…perhaps he was making a bid for the job of ambassador to Arslikhan.

Wacko applies for ambassador to arslikhan

 

 

 

 

 

And now has been appointed PPS to David Davis.

wacko PPS appointment

 

And if you want to read him in full flow then take a look at this from 2006, while Muslim members of his Peterborough constituency make their feelings about him pretty clear in this piece. 

The issue of Immigration, whipped up as it has been, by people like Jackson, certainly played its part in the Referendum. But recent research indicates that areas with a significant proportion of non-British born people living in them overwhelmingly voted Remain (bear in mind EU nationals did not have a vote). It was the areas which had experienced the greatest increase in arrivals (since the  EU enlargement in 2004) which voted for Brexit.

Yesterday Theresa May stated in Prime Minster’s Questions, that the Conservative Party wolud be busy over the next few months “bringing this country back together” after the Referendum (which her party had dreamt up, and instigated).

Perhaps she has decided that putting Stewart Jackson on the leash of being a Government employee (and therefore not able to speak out in the way he is accustomed to doing), is a good place to start.

 

 

Posted in Andrea Leadsom, Brexit, immigration, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Stewart continues his journey, and it’s Coffey Time at Defra

Therese Coffey

Therese Coffey supports Pig Farming

We now know which ministers will work with Andrea Leadsom at Defra. Rory Stewart, who was apparently punished by David Cameron for disagreeing with him over Afghanistan, has now been rehabilitated. Having served his time at Defra, he is now where he should be, over at the Department for International Development.

George Eustice, one of the key Brexiters among the junior ministers, wins the job of explaining to his farming constituency (not his Parliamentary constituency of Camborne, Redruth and Hayle) how Brexit is going to benefit them. If that sounds like a difficult job, that’s because it is. Almost all voices are calling for a reduction in farm subsidies – indeed as I have anticipated, plenty on the (libertarian) right are calling for the abolition of farm subsidies – and Eustice himself has already indicated where he would like to see this debate going. There has already been blood on the carpet, in a spat between right-leaning journalist Emma Duncan and the National Farmers Union. This argument is only get dirtier.

While the Countryside Alliance still have their man, Lord Gardiner, representing Defra in the Lords, Rory Stewart’s replacement is Therese Coffey. As far as we know, Coffey will take on Stewart’s roles, which covered wildlife, flooding, rural affairs, natural resources, natural capital, and being the Minister responsible for Defra’s big three Agencies  – The Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission.

What do we know about Coffey? She represents Suffolk Coastal constituency, quite a large chunk of which falls within the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  As this map shows, it is also rich in wildlife, especially well-supplied with European sites such as Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. Inland lies much productive arable land.

The economically important Felixstowe docks (“Britain’s biggest container port”) lies at the southernmost tip of the constituency.

suffolk coastal

Nature Sites include The Stour, Deben and Alde-Ore estuaries, THe Suffolk Sandlings heaths, Minsmere-Walberswick, The extraordinary Staverton Park with it’s Holly-Oak wilderness of the Thicks; and the shingle communities of Orfordness and Shingle Street.

Just looking at the map, it does look like the vast majority of protected nature sites in Coffey’s constituency are European sites, with just a tiny number of sites only protected under national legislation as SSSIs. It would be interesting to see the percentage of SSSI’s in Coffey’s constituency which are European sites.

Why am I labouring this point? Because Coffey is now responsible for sorting out the huge mess left in the wake of the Brexit vote – does the UK hang on to the additional protections afforded European sites through European legislation (The Birds and Habitats Directives) or does it follow her senior colleague George Eustice’s view that these Directives are “spirit crushing” and should be abandoned.

What additional protection do these “spirit crushing” directives provide for nature in Coffey’s constituency? Well, development of the Felixstowe Docks despite it being very close to Special Protection Areas has proceeded, with compensation for loss of intertidal habitat being provided at Wallasea on the Essex Coast. There don’t appear to have been any restrictions on housing development close to European Sites, as has been the case elsewhere, eg in the Brecklands. This may be due to the fact that Coffey’s constituency is predominantly rural or coastal, with few large urban areas.

What else do we know about Coffey? She has an accountancy and food industry background (having reached the lofty role of Finance Director at Mars Drinks) and is a dog-lover. She is very supportive of her local Pig Farmers, having met them several times over the last year, including one with former Defra SoS and fellow pork lover Liz Truss. She believes that farmers are “the key conservators of the Great British Countryside”.

What about any references to nature in Coffey’s copious writing? Well, there’s nothing apparent, apart from a reference to the Forest sell-off debacle.  Despite all those highly protected nature sites in her constituency, Coffey does not appear to have met Natural England once.  Coffey may  feel a distrust of Natural England, due to the part they played in the battle of Easton Bavents in her constituency  – you can read an excellent account by Patrick Barkham here. As a prospective MP she stated her support for more sea defences.

But a closer look reveals that Coffey is the UK Champion for the Bittern. The RSPB have given her this title, of which she is appears to be proud.

She said: “It was great to be at the beautiful RSPB Minsmere at the beginning of the bank holiday weekend to try and catch a glimpse of the rare and elusive bittern. As the RSPB’s Bittern Champion I want to raise the profile of this once near-extinct bird which was the star of BBC Springwatch in 2014. The Suffolk coast is a special place and it is our duty to protect the fantastic wildlife who share it with us (my bold). I encourage locals and tourists alike to pay a visit to this inspiring part of the world.”

She also clearly does liaise with the Environment Agency regularly, as her constituency suffers probably the most serious coastal erosion in the whole of the UK, and also has lots of farmland needing to be kept dry.

Coffey contacted former Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson asking that her local Internal Drainage Boards be given more freedom to dredge and drain, without tiresome red tape getting in the way. This from 2014:

“After a recent visit to Snape, which was hit particularly hard by the recent flooding along with flooding in Aldeburgh and Iken, I raised the issue of internal drainage boards with the Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson MP, in Parliament. Drainage boards have powers to secure water level management in specific locations up and down the country. The Secretary of State gave me assurances that their role will continued to be enhanced to ensure waterways are freed up and don’t become blocked. By continuing to allow drainage boards to make local decisions work will continue apace. In previous years a scarcity of water not an excess has been an issue which has led to the water abstraction consultation as part of the Water Bill. Our local farmers are regular abstractors and it is important that we don’t allow water to become an expensive tradable quota by over regulation. I asked the Minister, Dan Rogerson MP, to assure me that there will be consultation events in areas like Suffolk Coastal where there is water stress. He offered to meet with me about this so I hope we can get something organised locally.”

One wonders if she is not keen on tradeable water abstraction quotas, whether she will be keen on tradable biodiversity obligations. Perhaps Eustice can persuade her.

She likes IDB’s – and recently stated

“I do not know the reason why the presence of IDBs is quite so limited in other parts of the country, but as we learn the lessons of how to cope with such unusual weather, I hope that IDBs being set up right across our country might form part of the answer.”

Given the IDB’s historic role in environmental damage and contributing to urban flooding, I can imagine quite a few people who might want to question whether more are needed, or indeed what sort of a question would be formulated, where more IDBs were the answer.

With  another impending review of the future of Natural England and the Environment Agency on the way, it’s worth noting what Coffey said when the agencies were under review in 2012:

“This review gives the Government a chance to take a fresh look at what these bodies do and how they do it. I would encourage residents and groups to respond to the review and suggest any changes that would lead to better results for the environment, economic growth and for people here in Suffolk.”

 

 

Posted in Defra, dogs, Dredging, flooding, Therese Coffey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

New head of Defra Andrea Leadsom has already laid out her plans for farm subsidy reform.

P1040659

Farming Future under a New Zealand style farm policy regime ©Miles King

The dust is settling following the brutal excision of the Cameron/Osborne cliques from power.

One Department has been knocked down, or split asunder – the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Energy has gone to Business and Industry, Climate Change has gone – where? We await to hear whether it’s merged into Defra, or buried within energy/industry. There’s a clue – Theresa May’s Thinker in Chief and Co-Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, “dislikes green taxes and high energy costs”.

Defra’s future is by no means assured. The new Secretary of State is Andrea Leadsom. Leadsom, you will recall, was bidding to become leader of the Tory Party and the new PM, on Monday. Yes, just four days ago. Now she has Defra. It feels like a cross between a poisoned chalice and a punishment cell in the workhouse. In the same way that Boris Johnson has been given Foreign Affairs, David Davis has Brexit, Leadsom has been given both the Environmental Sector and the Farmers to deal with/sort out. You can imagine Timothy telling each Brexiteer as they appeared in Number 10 yesterday, on behalf of May (who is too busy to meet them herself)

“You Brex-ed it – now you have to fix it/clean up your own mess. You’ve got 12 months.”

What do we know about Andrea Leadsom, apart from the fact that she thinks people who have children have more of a stake in the future, than everyone else (does that include children themselves?).

This is her speaking in a Guardian Brexit debate in March:

Net we send £9bn a year to the EU, gross it’s £19bn; the remainder we get back in subsidies are things we have to beg for, things we have to co-finance, pet projects of the EU so farmers – yes, they are supplicants asking for roughly 50% back of the money that they paid over in the first place.

On voting to leave the EU, the UK government will absolutely continue in the short term to provide those subsidies whilst we think about what makes sense. And some of the things that would make sense would be environmental trading credits, because at the moment you have farmers who have to do a bit of environmental planning and a bit of farming just to meet the EU requirements.

It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies. That would make a lot more sense for the UK and it’s perfectly possible but only if we leave the EU and sort it out for ourselves.

That bears striking resemblance to something farm minister George Eustice said back in 2012. And there should be no surprise that Eustice and Leadsom come from the same place on farm subsidies – as they both worked together on the radical right “Fresh Start” group, formulating what a post-Brexit Britain would look like. Here are some recent proposals from Fresh Start on farm support reform.

Eustice talked of scrapping Pillar One altogether and ploughing (his word) the money into “transferable biodiversity obligations”, meaning farmers in the productive areas would trade subsidy for environmental obligation – ie no pay but no red tape either. No Red Tape at all. Eusticce suggested Pillar two funds – for agri-environment schemes and so on, would be disbursed on a much wider range of projects, including regional economic policy.

What else can we glean from Leadsom’s past writing on the subject. Nearly ten years ago she wrote this piece

Does Britain need its own farming industry?

 I went to a fascinating seminar today on the prospects for the British farming industry. Chaired by Ruth Lea of the Centre for Policy Studies, the guest list was impressive, including some of our most influential farmers, a number of peers, and many members of parliament.

 What was most fascinating though is that there was not a single representative of the Government.

 British farming is in decline, with most notably the pig industry down 40% since Labour came to power, in spite of no change in the amount of pork consumed in Britain. Farming incomes have been dropping since the 1970s, now with huge disparity between the successful and the failing farms. Capital investment in British farming is in decline.

 All this is against a backdrop of some big changes taking place:

 – the ‘politics’ of food is changing: we are now more conscious than ever of what we eat in terms of quality as well as ‘food miles’;

 – health and welfare standards are increasingly higher in Britain, but not necessarily matched elsewhere in the world, even in the EU – therefore the cost of food production in Britain can be comparativly high;

 – climate change means water shortages and floods threaten some of those countries who now export to Britain;

 – globally, the increasing demand for bio fuels will compete with the use of land for food production.

 I think these changes offer a great opportunity for a revival of British farming… in recent years the work of the Soil Association in promoting organic food has been impressive, and I would like to see British farmers emulate that success.

 What do I mean by that? Well, how about seize the initiative and start to promote ‘British produce’ aisles in supermarkets?

 How about promoting school trips to working farms? I heard recently of a group of 10 year olds who thought you had to kill a cow in order to milk it! Kids talking about British farming is a sure way to influence where the weekly housekeeping money gets spent.

 How about farmers launching a campaign on healthy British food? Perhaps promote a ‘Mark’ that all ‘Healthy British Food’ carries on the label. That would surely get round the confusion over ‘country of origin’ labels.

 Finally, the government has to help too… Labour seems only to want British farmers to keep the hedgerows tidy, and ensure that there are butterflies and frogs around for their annual nostalgic trips to the countryside.

 The fact is, British farming will cease to exist if it is forced to become merely an extended form of landscape gardening.

 How government must help is by providing a level playing field. Imported food must meet the same stringent health and animal welfare standards of British food. Subsidies must be abolished. The trade descriptions legislation that enables Country of Origin to be shown as the last country in which food was ‘processed’ must be changed.

 As a final point, to go back to my blog of a few days ago… peripheral activities within the sphere of farming, such as hunting, must be protected as a justifiable element of the whole.

At least in the intervening period, Leadsom appears to have taken more of a shine to butterflies. But the sentiment is clear, abolish subsidies, bring back hunting, and no room for frogs. Untidy hedgerows would also be a step forward from where we are now, but yes I’m clutching at straws.

Agri-Industry insiders website Agra-Europe has taken the unusual step of allowing free access to this opinion piece, that is how urgent they feel the situation is. They have looked at the Fresh Start manifesto and found this quote:

“The agricultural sector in New Zealand can keep the cost of production low and compete in a global export market with the lowest level of government support to agriculture in the OECD at only 1% of farm income. This is only possible with light-touch regulation.”

their analysis of the Fresh Start proposals for farms are thus:

They recommended that “direct payments to farmers in Pillar 1 of the CAP should be phased out, and there should be a parallel reduction in red tape and regulation in order to ensure a globally competitive farming sector.”

In tandem, “Pillar 2 payments for environmental stewardship should be increased with new tradable environmental payments introduced to allow productive land to be more intensively farmed and marginal land to be more focussed on environmental stewardship.”

Ideally, all Pillar 1 payments would be phased out over an undetermined timeframe. Under the Fresh Start scenario, this would “encourage innovation and allow our farming sector to compete in a global market where price volatility and increasing costs of production make reform all the more pressing.”

Unspecified “red tape and regulation” are other key areas earmarked for reduction or abolition altogether. 0% of the resulting cost to businesses coming from the EU.

And in line with the wider priorities from the ‘Brexit Boys’ triumvirate of Johnson, Davis and Fox, Fresh Start seeks “an increase in UK trade with countries outside the EU, through bilateral channels. The Government should build on its recent successes in China and Russia unashamedly promoting British food and drink products in emerging markets.”

Andrea Leadsom has laid out her plans for all to see. The question in my mind, is whether her Boss, Theresa May, will let her have her way.

 

 

Posted in Andrea Leadsom, Defra, farm subsidies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

Brexit: Conclusive evidence for the Cock-Up theory of History

Reading back through “the story so far” , a short piece I wrote just over a week ago, it seems like such ancient history, that I’m trying to decipher some Babylonian runic script.

What is this Gove I spoke about, what ever happened to Andrea Leadsom?

Now we know. Theresa May, either through astute manouevring, or more likely just being the last person standing, has ended up as PM. The pressure Andrea Leadsom placed on herself through her self-inflicted smear campaign, was too much and she realised that she had done sufficient damage, that even the Tory members would not vote her in.

We will see in the next few days, which Brexiteers have gained from the referendum vote, whether Gove or Boris are given jobs, other than cleaning out the loo at Number 10. Will we finally see the last of Whippingdale….

Let’s hope that Liz Truss is moved from Defra. She has been universally decried as useless, and despite a few feeble efforts, has not even managed to provide comedy value in the way that OPatz was so effortlessly able to. 

To my mind, George Eustice is in a strong position to move up to Secretary of State, from his current 2nd in command position. He has been a leading Brexiteer voice and understands agricultural policy, which will be one of the largest domestic policy reform areas to arise from Brexit, if we do actually end up leaving the EU. His grasp of the implications of Brexit on environmental policy was poor, but those few Defra civil servants who are left in Nobel House will I expect have their briefing papers already written, and that will bring him swiftly back to reality, and the sheer enormity of the task.

Meanwhile Labour continue to implode. Labour MPs fearful of losing not only their own seats, but any collective influence within Parliament, are mustering for a fight for the leadership. Angela Eagle has finally committed to challenge Corbyn, though her launch yesterday was a minor disaster – could Leadsom really have deliberately timed her announcement to stitch up Eagle? It’s no secret that Tories joined the Labour Party in their thousands last summer to help vote in Corbyn, knowing how much good his leadership would do their own chances with the electorate. Eagle is forever tarnished with her support for the Iraq war.

The other contender, Owen Smith, a former lobbyist for big Pharma, is waiting for the Labour national executive committee to decide whether Corbyn will even get on the candidate list for the leadership contest, before deciding whether to stand. If the NEC decide not to put Corbyn on the list automatically, he will find it very difficult to muster the 50 MPs he needs to be nominated. Even though Union members have lost faith in him and his chances of becoming PM, Union leaders are threatening the Labour Party with legal action if they decide he needs to get MPs behind him, before he can become a candidate in the election.

It’s notable how the Conspiracy Theories are swirling around these days – on both the Left and the Right. The main Left conspiracy is that Blairites have plotted the downfall of Corbyn since day one and are now mid-Coup; the Right conspiracies abound, but the main one now is that May will fail to invoke Article 50 and Brexit will be quietly killed off. IDS was also talking about black ops against Andrea Leadsom.

But take a step back and just look at the position we’re now in.

Cameron, who started the whole sorry process by committing to a Referendum (which is not our normal form of democracy), in order to supposedly heal a decades-long internal rift within the Conservative Party.

The lead Brexiteers – Farage, Gove and Boris, have started the fire and run from the building.

The Neolibertarian plotters who led the Leave campaign from behind the scenes are lying on the battlefield, wounded or missing in action. Chief among them, Dominic Cummings, was ditched by Gove even before Gove was ditched by the Tory Party. The Neoliberal’s second best hope, Andrea Leadsom proved most politically toxic to herself. The new PM is already stealing economic and political policies from the left.

The new Prime Minister Theresa May has no mandate from the Country.  Though she has the support of the Conservative MPs, we will never know whether she had the support of the Conservative Party Membership and many will feel cheated that they were not given the opportunity to choose.

Labour MPs, who had the support of the electorate, are at war with the Labour Party membership, most of whom are Momentum supporters but who have only voted for Corbyn as leader. And the Union leaders, who support Corbyn, are at odds with their membership, who don’t support him.

If ever there was a prima facie case for the Cock-Up Theory of History, this is it.

 

Posted in Brexit | Tagged , , | 11 Comments