Feeling rather sorry for myself for having succumbed to, what for me is a nasty cold (verging on man flu), I was restricted yesterday to watching the Tory Party Conference.
What gems and treasures lay strewn across its shiny (though not rhubarb-rubbed) floors.
Our near neo-Leaderene Andrea Leadsom spoke – her first speech since taking on the Defra mantle.
She spoke of the brave new world of FREE TRADE, following Brexit.
Apparently we already export coffee to Brazil, fizzy wine to France, and Naan Bread to India. Did you know? nor did I – nor did anyone. Even more imaginatively, she praised one particular entrepreneur who is “bottling” Dorset air and selling it to the Chinese for £80 a bottle. No-one can find any evidence that we actually do export coffee to Brazil, and even if we did send Naan to India, is this a good thing?
There were other bizarre moments, when she attempted to get down with the Yoof, talking about the difficulty of accessing her Pokemon Go account, due to poor mobile reception in her leafy constituency of South Northants.
What about the meat? where were the big policy announcements? There weren’t any.
Farmers desperately worried that they will be driven out of business by FREE TRADE, because the EU tariffs and quotas that had kept cheap meat from Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, are at risk of being abandoned, will probably be more worried today than before Leadsom let out the air from her personal policy jar.
Everything will be alright though shh, go back to sleep.
Because there’s going to be a 25 year food and farming plan, and a 25 year nature plan (why split the two apart – does food not come from nature?). And these plans will tell us all how it will all be sorted out. There’s only one problem. Article 50 will be invoked in about 4 months time, after which Ms Leadsom and her civil servants have two years (24 months for the hard of counting) to work out exactly what sort of tariff and quota regime will be put in place. – and then put it in place, with a (transitional) system of farm support to replace the Common Agricultural Policy. So 2 years into the 25 year plan, it will all need to be re-written.
As a way of preparing the shell-shocked British public for her speech, the previous day she had suggested that British people should pick fruit, instead of the 45,000 people, mostly from Eastern Europe, who currently pick our fruit and veg. It’s not clear whether our children know that the consequences of not doing well in their GCSE’s is now a life of fruit picking, but perhaps now is the time to introduce fruit picking into the National Curriculum, to prepare them for their future careers. After all, the Government is on the hunt for producers of Innovative Jams, to export to France. Presumably this is because the French have already rumbled our secret plan to sell them tins of fresh air.
I have an innovative jam idea. Leadsom promised that 11 million trees would be planted – many of them in school grounds, by 2020. Now we all know the problems that large trees close to buildings can cause, so why not plant 11 million fruit trees in school grounds? Then the children could learn to pick fruit, while being at school. And if Jam making was also part of the National Curriculum, then Innovative Jam could be literally oozing out of every school in the country, on its way to France. We could build a Jam Interconnector, from Poole to Cherbourg, to facilitate the flow.
On a more serious note, Leadsom managed to get at least two mentions of her mantra into the speech:
the claim is that the Tory Government is committed to being “the first generation to leave it in a better state than we found it.”
the claim raises far more questions than it answers.
Was the environment lost, in order for it to be found? Where did the Tories find the Environment – down the back of the sofa? Where are they going to leave it, once they’ve done whatever it is they’re going to do with it. I can see a series of written questions evolving.
As an indication of just how much Leadsom has grasped her brief, she made a powerful statement about how many children have not visited a Greenspace in the last 12 months (one in 9 since you ask), but then utterly flunked it by suggesting that it was easy to plug these nature-deprived children into nature because
“Two thirds of people live within 30 minutes of a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”
Yes Leadsom clearly believes that the vast acreages of Maize for example, in the Dorset AONB, qualify as green space where children can recharge their nature batteries. They do not.
On the 25 year nature plan, Leadsom gave us another indication of the depth of her reading over the Summer.
“I’m truly excited that our departure from the EU means we can develop policies that are tailored to our most precious habitats and wildlife – not a one size fits all approach for 28 Member States.
It’s this opportunity we’ll be seizing as we work on our ambitious 25 Year Plan for the environment, using nature’s own building blocks of water catchments and landscapes to benefit our plants and animals.”
Leaving aside the pros and cons of leaving the EU Directives, I was intrigued, or just confused by her language on the 25 year nature plan. Now working on a catchment basis makes sense and I am sure we will be hearing much more about that in the coming months. But Landscapes? Using nature’s own building blocks of landscapes? What does this even mean? The only thing I can think of is that the Government is going to use the existing AONB/ National Park designation system as a framework for the 25 year plan. Hardly a new idea, given that these things were created in 1949. Also, don’t catchments extend into protected landscapes?
I had worried that with the demise of Owen Paterson, we would no longer get any comedy gold from Tory Environment Secretaries. It seems I was mistaken. Happy Days.