Hats off to a Defra Secretary really on the side of British agriculture
What's this? A Defra Secretary actually doing some campaigning on behalf of British farmers?
Owen Paterson is out in Hong Kong hawking British beef to the Chinese. He is there leading a delegation from the British beef industry to celebrate a historic agreement reached earlier this year allowing greater trade between the two nations – and given the phenomenal growth in demand for animal protein from the increasingly affluent Chinese that's a very lucrative door to have a foot in. Farmers will applaud the fact that he is doing it, given the track record of his predecessors – Caroline Spelman, unfortunately, included. For the last 15 years farmers have felt themselves to be doing well if the current Defra Secretary has treated them with total indifference. More often than not, however, they have been forced to take the view that those appointed to the job have been put there precisely because of their complete lack of knowledge of, or interest in, agriculture, and that the unwritten sub-text of their ministerial brief has been to make life as difficult as possible for anyone describing his occupation as "farmer" on his tax return. Margaret Beckett sent hundreds of farmers prematurely grey and cost the country hundreds of millions in EU fines with her Single Farm Payment formula, while David Miliband appeared on the scene like a rabbit materialising out of a conjuror's hat, admitted jocularly that he knew absolutely nothing about farming and left after a couple of months having failed to improve on that state of affairs.
Meanwhile Hilary Benn will be remembered as too scared to stand up to the badger lobby when he had a chance of starting getting TB under control and for slashing the budget for tree-disease research, leaving the country vulnerable to scourges like ash dieback.
He's due to be on Friday's edition of Any Questions, being broadcast from Dulverton. Presumably he will slip in and out under cover of darkness, otherwise the Exmoor farmers might well be inclined to provide one of the legendary warm welcomes they are famous for according unpopular politicians.
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Chris Rundle is an agricultural journalist from Somerset