VEGA News Item

Greening Up the Political Field – or Not? - 30/04/2007
Farming, food, health, and the environment are now hot topics with a political importance exceeding anything before
Farming, food, health, and the environment are now hot topics with a political importance exceeding anything before. The debate is stimulated by the new functions and activities of the Food Standards Agency and DEFRA replacing the duties of the discredited MAFF. When a DEFRA Minister, Ben Bradshaw, declares that Britons should eat less meat and milk and the FSA puts cheese and many traditionally salty meat products in its sin bin, campaigners for Green Planning and the consequences are almost overtaken by the politicians’ efforts at outdoing one another, at least in sentiments, if not in commitments in practice.


Thatcher-Milk Snatcher was irked by CAP subsidies heaped on the dairy-cow. She began an onset on a form of food production almost immune hitherto from such political impiety. A few years ago the Cabinet Office invited submissions for consultations on farming and food policies and a deluge of pent up advice resulted. It has been continued in consultations with the FSA and DEFRA and other government-appointed agencies, such as the Farm Animal Welfare Council, ensued. We tell of some of the action, but we have not had time even to chronicle our involvements fully month by month since last September. Now an initiating consultation on a FAWC Opinion on the Life Expectancy of the Dairy Cow has just reached us. It is part of the Council’s Strategic Plan covering the years 2006 to 2010.

Elections are imminent and councillors, MPs, and MEPs must never again resort to making excuses for ducked responsibility: “Of course I get more post about animal welfare that anything else, but…”. It is now gaining its rightful place in the flood of issues comprehended and being extended (or squashed) in the Animal Welfare Act, which is just coming into force, and in the anti-hunting legislation. The campaigning public must continue this momentum. Disgusted of Twickenham must maintain the pressure and uphold the work of many hard-working charities. Praise must be heaped on politicians who manifest practice of the new preachings. Do we see pictures of them actually reading labels on foodstuffs and declaring the bills they run up in the catering at The House that accord with Mr Bradshaw’s recommendations? Does he himself set a good example?

In the early 1950s when post-war rationing still curtailed food choices and excesses, the Government was torn between the examples of Sir Stafford Cripps, a health food consumer and vegetarian, who wished to keep the national loaf brown (and fortified with some vitamins and minerals) and Ernest Bevin, whose earnestness embraced the political consequences of continuing austerity on a war-wearied electorate. Both were respected politicians in the same Cabinet. Cripps was Chancellor of the Exchequer and member of the Fabian research group, whose events and weekend gatherings always catered well for veggies, among whom Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and others of the Bloomsbury Set were prominent.

Ernie Bevin, champion of the white loaf, that shaky staff of life later recognized best as Mothers’ Shame, suffered badly from constipation and piles, so as Minister at the Foreign Office committee sittings and enabling motions must have been painful for him and decisions might have been affected accordingly (some pertained particularly to areas known then as Palestine, Arabia and Mesopotamia). Churchill respected both protagonists, albeit a little sarcastically: “There but for the grace of God…” he would observe over Cripps’ performances in the House of Commons. Ernie Bevin was obese. Cripps enlivened Fabian weekends with sets on the tennis courts, and veggies were gaining plaudits for their enthusiasm for hiking, cycling, and youth hostelling.

Unfortunately Cripps inflicted a blow on the then PM, the laconic Clement Attlee, who had to bring the well-heeled academics and reformers into a united front, with a curt word or two for intellectuals who were ineffectual with it. Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the NHS and another Fabian, was another man who developed as an intellectual with a fine command of the English language while remaining a champion of the workers. Cripps’ challenge to Attlee began with a failure in his health and his wish to go for treatment in the famous Bircher-Benner nature clinic in Zurich, in Switzerland. Britain being almost beggared by WW2, Cripps, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had to staunch expenditure abroad paid for in British currency. This imposition particularly curtailed travel and holidays abroad: it made skiing in Switzerland almost impracticable. Nature cure and raw food diets in Swiss clinics aren’t quick and cost a lot more than the currency crisis of the time would permit for the populace. Special dispensations had to be made for Cripps, to Atlee’s consternation. They were ineffectual. Cripps’ death did little to enhance the merits of his lifestyle or its like.

David Cameron and Home Rules

The Sunday Times Magazine a week ago offered glimpses of the Dave New World that a contender, David Cameron MP, for high office might present for the environment and health in our green and pleasant land. “Eco-warrior, champion of the family, hoodie-defender – David Cameron ticks all the boxes to woo the electorate. Is he to be trusted or is he leading us up the garden path?” asks the introduction to the article.

The interviewer’s notes set the scene: “ on a glorious Saturday afternoon a more honey-on-toast Cotswold idyll would be hard to conjure. David Cameron lives here in a perfect cottage when he is not in his rented London house, or his new eco-palace round the corner (with a wind turbine, solar panels, and a rainwater harvester), or his country house in Devon, which he doesn’t get to much these days. Cameron’s neighbour Lord Chadlington, brother of John Selwyn Gummer, owns the magnificent Queen Anne manor in this Oxfordshire village, and also its little farm and the pool in which the Camerons are invited to swim. Last summer they splashed for a week in tropical temperatures when the heating was left on by mistake: hardly a green experience, but Cameron is not one to let dogma get in the way of a nice life, and good for him”, opines the interviewer.
Wither the Wether Forecast for Political Balls

David Cameron, 40, “is gregarious and more confident than anyone you have met” (Sunday Times Magazine, 22/04/07). Apart from his apparent ecological fervor, he boasts other skills among which “he can castrate a lamb with a pair of pliers (I didn’t see this, thank God)”. Some disquiet might upset animal welfarists amongst the flock, especially when his humane credentials are flawed by animosity towards animals of the political breed. “We’re happy Blair’s going. He’s trying to get out of the shit and can’t, Brown thinks he still can, so we have to push his face back in it”. Parents in the electorate might get twitchy if new Tories like him kissed their babies.

Castration of lambs and rams with pliers involves use of a special instrument called a burdizzo or to secure elastrator rings to crush the spermatic cord where it enters the scrotum. Or the Good Shepherd might have bitten the scrotum if his dentition was up to it – the 23rd Psalm is not clear on this point. The scrotum may wither and drop off for scavengers (“mountain oysters” for the human kind).

Lambs treated by all the methods suffered “considerable acute pain for up to 3 hours in some cases…” concluded a research report from the School of Veterinary Studies at Edinburgh University (Veterinary Record 1995, 136/8, p192-196). Older sheep (rams, tups) should, like older calves, be anaesthetized for a procedure restricted in practice to skilled vets. The small rubber rings “produced more intense pain for a shorter period than the standard rubber rings.” Infection may set in, with chronic distress. Analogies may be pursued in human and political mutilations. No wonder spring lambs (wethers after emasculation) hop.

John Selwyn Gummer MP is hardly a name to vaunt in countryside idylls. He has been champion of unpasteurized cow milk (in England, but such defences were squashed in Scotland, where hygiene was taken more seriously) and, infamously, of the excellence of British beef when he was Minister of Agriculture at the height of the BSE crisis. John Gummer’s constituency is near to Bernard Matthews’ estate of broiler houses where heavy culling (and costly compensation from the taxpayer) took place recently to avert a spread of the avian flu. We understand that John Gummer has been enrolled as an adviser in a policy-making agriculture group convened by David Cameron.

We remember John Gummer in two contexts. In one we contrived a small ceremony at the Royal Smithfield Agricultural Show. In our presentation in front of the Farmers’ Weekly stand the veggie daughter of a veggie family offered John Gummer a veggie burger as a Christmas gift for his famous daughter. Our offer was accepted graciously but ambiguously in defence of unbridled choice of foodstuffs.

In a less gracious outburst Gummer departed from a script of a speech at a dinner at a convocation of the Worshipful Company of Butchers, at which he was the honoured speaker. He delivered himself of withering attack on vegetarianism and the misguided consumers who didn’t eat meat. As it happened, a reporter of the Times was there enjoying the repast but with his notebook at the ready, and he sought out a veggie reaction to the tirade from a Minister of Agriculture who might have repented over his humble pie. Gummer, a staunch churchman to boot, made himself ridiculous with some wild errors over the cow’s God-given complement of stomachs. If David Cameron needs advice on the live/deadstock industry we believe our offering could better John Gummer’s and could usefully avert futile opposition to Ben Bradshaw’s.

Fatherhood and Husbandry

Assuring the Sunday Times readers that “Cameron is nothing if not a slick PR operator” and a “devoted father” (a son of his is “profoundly disabled, with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He doesn’t walk or talk or smile”), the interviewer illustrates her article with the obligatory election picture of a politician in a farming context petting a young lamb while giving the bottle (but of what we may ask and why has the lamb been snatched from its mum or fostered on another ewe with milk to spare and willing to take the suckling). “Can you feel the lambkin, Ivan” reports the interviewer accompanying Cameron who was wheeling his disabled son to visit the pigs and lambs on a nearby farm. “Thankfully, we don’t vote for politicians on the basis of how sweetly they minister to sick children”, states the interviewer, who nevertheless noted that Cameron’s very recent conversion to ecological “fervour”. In a test of conviction a stop at a local café found that “outdoor heaters were blasting out wanton heat”. Cameron had smiled: “We won’t ask for them to be turned off. We didn’t turn them on after all”. (We may also note his abandonment of smoking as the results of the leadership of the Tory party pitched him into greater prominence. Kenneth Clarke is now a supporter and adviser to Cameron. Clarke’s involvements in the tobacco industry and in his lacklustre performance when Minister of Health in tackling the national threat due to smoking suggest that Cameron will have some difficulties in making New Tory policies a replacement for “an extension of the old Conservative charitable instinct, the nobleness oblige on which Cameron was reared”. He is “enamoured of the voluntary sector”).

The Rich Man in his Castles and ...

“As a conventional type, with his membership of White’s and his country weekends”, his lifestyle seems out of sympathy with many current issues in rural affairs and the town-country divide. In terms of husbandry he can prove to his children that “he can scratch a pig’s back so effectively that the creature sighs”; and, what’s more, “he cannot only play touchy-feely with baby lambkins”, but “he can castrate a ram with a pair of pliers”. The reporter exclaims: “I didn’t see this, thank God”. (Nor should anyone ever see such a thing. Docking a puppy dog’s tails delayed implementation of the Animal Welfare Bill for a while, in a less severe act of surgery that might be entrusted only to a qualified vet. Cameron’s involvements and intentions in countryside pursuits such as hunting and shooting indicate the need for enlightenment on all aspects of good husbandry from welfarists for all animals and the environment). The interviewer observes that “the Cameron message has been touchy-feely: warm, apolitical issue that have made him a man for all generations, all tastes. Irresistible. But for a hero of the newly caring eco-Cons, his history is incongruous.

“Lunch is ready”, calls his wife Samantha. Ivan’s carer is off sick. Cameron suggests wrapping up the interview, then “we can have a nice lunch”. Lord Chadlington’s gardener occasionally drops off half a pig to the cottage – “Cameron has cooked every part successfully except the trotters”, relates the interviewer (apparently they don’t say grace). The salty ham we eat is from the local farm shop, and so is the pork pie; the smoked-mackerel patè is a Cameron specialty. In the kitchen sits a pumpkin the size of a football. Tonight the editor of the Sun, Rebekal Wade, is being treated to a Jamie Oliver roast-chicken recipe cooked by Cameron”. The cottage for these feasts (which don’t score very well on the fruit-and-veg scales) is a converted barn. (We might conjecture on a call on Gordon Brown for meals of tatties and neeps, clouti dumplings, and other mortal remains devoured by God-fearing citizens indoctrinated with roundelays of the 23rd Psalm even as the oven was warming up during the Sunday sermon).

Admission and Subtracted Missions

“I distrust people with too much of a mission. Other people’s missions often involve everyone else making huge sacrifices. I am distrustful of the grand plan. It’s not me”, proclaims Cameron. “He is a scion of the class that, deep down believes it was born to rule: this does not, by the way, make its members bad at the job, just lazy in their assumptions about how hard they need to fight to get there”, notes the Sunday Times’ interviewer. “We fear people who have great utopian visions”, says Cameron. These don’t sound the words of an eco-warrior or of someone and acolytes with respect for VEGA’s mission.

An inkling of the other Cameron comes out of a visit with that “sleek old beast” Michael Heseltine to a regeneration project in Bradford, at which Cameron offered some remarks on Gordon Brown’s “great brain”, but “he will struggle with responsiveness as PM, ‘being too much of a planner’”. Hezza is now renowned as “a man of the trees”. This attribute escaped notice. Instead, family-man Cameron measured his words in a response to Hezza in the old style of political obloquy. “We’re quite glad Blair’s going”, he tells Hezza. “He’s trying to get out of the shit and can’t. Brown thinks he still can, so we have to push his face back in it”. The Sunday Times article notes the unconciliarity stance of a man “who relishes a fight more than you’d imagine”. Elections loom. Champions of all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, beware! All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Haven’t we heard that or its like said after lost opportunities? Now is the time for an informed electorate to ensure that politicians must be judged on their acceleration and goaded into redoubled action for the common good. The lights have turned green for political involvement and enterprise.  

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