Saturday, March 08, 2014

NFU First woman deputy President








Minette Batters is up at 5.30am with her terrier, driving her tractor round her farm in Wiltshire, reversing horse boxes, manoeuvring diggers and enticing her favourite cow, Blackie, out of the barn before a coffee and the school run. Having been warned by her father as a teenager that farming wasn’t for girls, the slender, blonde 46-year-old single mother has just been voted the first woman deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union in 105 years. “Traditionally women didn’t farm but the more I was told I couldn’t do something, the more I wanted it. I grew up on this farm and was in love with it but my father, who was a tenant farmer, was very resistant about me taking over. He really struggled, he thought women should be in the kitchen. But my brother didn’t want to farm so I was determined to get the tenancy back.” Now there are 23,000 women in farming. “A lot of daughters are really keen.

This place was run-down when I took over in 1998. There wasn’t a fence. It was very fragile. There were only 30 acres so I had to diversify. I now have a 100-strong suckler herd, but I also trained in catering so I run a wedding business in our barn and we have a horse livery business and look after polo ponies in the winter.” Farmers, she thinks, have to embrace the global market. “There is a huge demand for British produce. If 2 per cent of China is prepared to pay more for our product n we must go there.” The British still spend less of their income on food than any other European nation, preferring cheap cuts of beef, cut-price burgers and bargain sliced bread to more expensive produce.

“We do live in a cheap food society but we also love animals so we need to convince people that they want their cows and sheep raised well and that costs money.” It has worked in the poultry industry, she says. “People want free-range and corn-fed now, they like to know that the animals have had a bit of a life; they have a naive image that the chickens are all running around in orchards but they do get to scratch in the dirt and fresh air. It’s harder with cattle: people don’t want to know the connection with their sausages and burgers.” Farmers seem to garner little sympathy even when their fields flood or their herds become infected with TB, unlike in France where they are seen as national treasures. “It’s much better now than it was,” Ms Batters says. “Programmes like Countryfile have made a massive difference.”

 Her greatest frustration now is that the farmer’s role as custodian of the countryside is being taken away. “I farm on the Avon valley, which is an SSSI [Site of Special Scientific Interest]. This environment was created by farmers who care about the environment. The knowledge base we have on waders and the biodiversity of the river is incredible and yet now you have outfits like Natural England who make up their own policies and don’t look to the local farmers for their expertise.” The recent flooding on the Somerset Levels and around Salisbury, including on her farm, has been exacerbated by certain quangos’ obsessions, she believes. “You have this desire now from Natural England for water courses to return to their natural state. I think the thing to go back to is that the water courseways in this country are artificial.

 The water meadows by my farm were built by the Dutch in the 17th century, the river was always cleared, we had the weed cut. Then the Environment Agency took over from the local river board who dug out the ditches . . . and Natural England said they want a lot of rewilding and rewetting.” The result, she says, is that many farmers have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds that they spent last year reseeding their flooded meadows, only to see them under water again. “I am not saying the Levels wouldn’t have flooded, but not to the extent they did. It was a massive cost-cutting measure to do nothing. They just thought, ‘let it go’. It’s very narrow-minded.” It amazes her that while the Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] budget decreases daily, the Environme nt Agency is now the second largest in the world. “Their budget is vast. Yet their view is, ‘Let’s allow the countryside to return to its natural state. Let’s ignore it and it will go away — it’s too difficult.’ Natural England is frustrating too. It hasn’t got enough farmer involvement. They are both unaccountable and they hide behind the European Habitats Directive yet Holland, which is absolutely manicured, is totally compliant with the directive. We all want the countryside to flourish but their policies are actually detrimental to the environment.”

The idea that areas of Britain could be abandoned to the elements horrifies her. “The Dutch are living below sea levels. We need land in Britain, we are a little island and here we are saying, ‘Oh, let’s just let some of it go, be submerged.’ It is disgraceful and short-sighted. If we could do it 300 years ago we can make it work now. People have been living in these places for generations. To say ‘just move’ is extraordinary.” Maintaining this countryside isn’t just for the benefit of people, she says. “There isn’t a bird who can nest anywhere on the Somerset Levels now. The animals, the water voles have drowned, their habitats have all been swamped.” The badger population, on the other hand, she believes has got out of control. “Cattle give TB to cattle, badgers give it to cattle and cattle give it to badgers. Yet we are culling all the cattle and we are not doing anything with the badgers. Look worldwide at TB and the only way anyone has ever got to the bottom of it is to address both sides . . .

If we wait for a vaccination, the wildlife will become riddled with TB for ever. To have poor calves orphaned is appalling.” Her own herd has always been TB-free. “But there is a terrible suicide rate among farmers and I think TB has driven people to the edge. They love their herds and the worst thing with TB is that when you get it, you can’t do anything about it. It’s devastating knowing that your life’s work is done for.” She worries just how far TB could spread if it becomes out of control. “I wonder how far off we are off a public health risk, a human health risk from TB. The student I had working for me last year, she hadn’t had a BCG jab.

TB is an airborne disease. That’s how badgers give it to cattle. It’s a virus. It’s crossing species — you’re now seeing it getting into goats, we’ve had it in pigs, it is a virus that’s mutated.” Foxes also need to be kept under control, she insists. “The hunting controversy was a strange one — it wasn’t really about the fox, it was a class war, it was about people on horses careering around the countryside enjoying themselves and actually how the fox died was secondary.” Women, she thinks, add a different slant to farming. “They are more aware of the consumer. People see a man running a farm and they think of it more as a business, but consumers relate more to women . . . they assume women will understand their concerns about food.” The new deputy president wants her children to have every opportunity to farm. “Holly wants to be like Mummy, George is less keen. I asked him if he would like to go into farming. He’s nine. He said: ‘Why would I do it, Mummy? You work really long hours and you quite often don’t smell very nice when we get home from school.’ He loves my new job at the NFU because I come in looking smart after my meeting days and I’m not covered in muck.”

 Curriculum vitae Born May 28, 1967 Educated Godolphin School, Salisbury, and catering college in London Career She took over the tenancy of her farm in 1998 and became county NFU chairman for Wiltshire in 2008; elected NFU deputy president this year Family Nine-year-old twins Quick fire Wind farm or fracking? Both have to be considered The Archers or Farming Today? Farming Today Moors or mountains? Moors, I’m frightened of heights Riding or fishing? Riding Organic or GM? Both where appropriate Tesco or farmers’ market? We need both Animal Farm or My Family and Other Animals? My Family and Other Animals Hunters or Crocs? I wear wellies

Sunday, December 01, 2013

I was a Trot in the Socialist Workers party (SWP)



Rod Liddle I suppose it is going too far to say that anyone who was a member of a far-left Marxist revolutionary party in that most unhinged of decades, the 1970s, was mentally ill. That would take in quite a large proportion of the previous government, most of the BBC (probably including the weathermen), High Court judges, charity bosses and indeed myself. “Fantastically deluded” would be kinder. Certainly we did not think we were mad as we stood on street corners selling our preposterous newspapers. We thought we were simply in possession of an important truth that the unenlightened masses couldn’t grasp.
I was a Trot in the Socialist Workers party (SWP) and I sold the newspaper alongside supporters of Rosa Luxemburg in the Spartacist League, burly unreformed Stalinists in the Communist party, twitchy fellow travellers in the International Marxist group and the weirdly cultish and secretive sectarians of the Workers Revolutionary party (WRP). Most of us were members of parties that had the word “workers” somewhere in the title or the small print. None of us had ever done any, of course.
But we didn’t think we were mad. The people we thought were right on the edge, whom we looked up to almost with envy, were the Maoists. When it came to absolutist political points of view, the Maoists were in a league of their own. Also, they had the best terminology: they could use terms such as “capitalist lackey” and “running dog” without appearing embarrassed.
It’s good to see the Maoists back in the news, then: it’s been a while. Aravindan Balakrishnan, 73, and his missus, Chanda, 67, have been arrested and bailed in connection with the extreme left-wing “collective” they are said to have run in an insalubrious part of south London. Three women were allegedly “rescued” from the house, having supposedly been held captive for more than 30 years.
Balakrishnan, or Comrade Bala, the form of address he allegedly preferred, had set up the Workers Institute of Marxism- Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, not to my mind a terribly catchy title. Apparently, its adherents believed the Chinese People’s Liberation Army would invade the UK by the end of the year — 1978. As things transpired, it invaded Vietnam instead.
Here the Maoists were not so mad, or not notably madder than the rest of us. We all signed up to the certainty of deliverance, which would arrive very, very soon. When I asked my local party boss how this deliverance would come, he leant close and whispered: “We’re going to arm the workers, Rod. We’re going to give them guns!” I didn’t ask how.
An absolutist mindset was required that was pristine as a consequence of its lack of compromise — or common sense, as you might put it. Little wonder that both the WRP and the SWP were torn apart by bullying, sexual misconduct and abuse of power: these organisations were — are — cults, with their millennial fantasies and minuscule memberships and lowering, powerful party bosses.
Still, Maoists in Brixton in 2013! It’s like finding one of those Japanese soldiers hunkering down in the jungles of Guadalcanal, unaware that the war ended decades ago. These days our end-times millennialists tend to be in the green movement, and the deliverance they seem to yearn for is dead polar bears and the Earth burnt to a crisp. I wonder if, 30 years hence, a global warming cult will be discovered still holed up in south London, still keeping the faith.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ed Milibands hypocrisy

It is breathtaking hypocrisy for the architect of expensive renewables to call for a price freeze Hypocrisy can be a beautiful thing when done well. To go, as Ed Miliband has done, within four years, from being the minister insisting that energy prices must rise — so uncompetitive green energy producers can be enticed to supply power — to being the opposition leader calling for energy prices to be frozen is a breathtaking double axel that would make Torvill and Dean envious. Remember this is the very architect of our current energy policy, the man who steered the suicidally expensive Climate Change Act through Parliament; the man who even this week pledged to decarbonise the entire British economy (not just the electricity sector) by 2030, meaning that nobody will be permitted to heat their house with gas. Has he checked the price of electric heating versus gas recently?


The gap is due to grow greater. By 2030 much of the electricity will, in theory, come from offshore wind, which is being promised three times the price that gas-fired power stations get for making electricity. So Mr Miliband is telling us to treble, and freeze, our heating bills at the same time. “There is not a low-cost energy future out there,” Mr Miliband the Energy Secretary said in July 2009, insisting that we learn to live with higher energy prices. “We can work together on the basis of this price freeze to make the market work in the future.


 Or you can reinforce in the public mind that you are part of the problem not the solution,” Miliband the Opposition Leader threatened energy companies yesterday. In a prescient paragraph entitled “And guess who gets shot?”, a Liberum Capital report in April suggested that when the energy-price crisis came, the government of the day would heap most of the financial pain on to investors by insisting that they cut profits. That day has arrived early. Mr Miliband has effectively admitted that he will try to delete investors’ return on equity rather than take any blame for the huge bills that will drive people into fuel poverty.


 Liberum estimated that to deliver the current Government’s low-carbon energy policy, which Labour thinks is too wet, would require £161 billion to be spent by 2020 and up to £376 billion by 2030. That will be passed to consumers. Much of the discussion on the Energy Bill in the House of Lords this summer was about how to make sure the subsidies were generous enough to entice such large investment. Liberum calculated that “if the investment does take place we see electricity bills rising by at least 30 per cent by 2020 and 100 per cent by 2030 in real terms”.


 Mr Miliband may have ensured that it does not take place. There has never been a price control that did not crimp supply. America’s controls on natural gas prices, instituted in the 1950s on the assumption that supplies were limited, and meant to protect consumers from monopoly pricing, ended up causing shortages and high prices. Nobody wanted to look for gas if the price was fixed by the government. After controls ended in 1989, America became awash with natural gas and prices plummeted. Imagine you are a big energy company wondering whether to spend millions pouring cement into the Dogger Bank to bear the weight of wind turbines. You reckon there’s a 50 per cent chance of a Miliband government in 2015 when the turbines come on stream. But you’ve just heard that Prime Minister Miliband will not let you make a profit. You will scale back your plans now. “If Centrica and SSE cannot make any money supplying electricity to the retail market then they won’t supply it. The lights will go off,” said Neil Woodford, the head of equities at Invesco Perpetual, one of Centrica’s biggest shareholders. And he has the power to make it so.

 Shed no tears for the energy firms. They went along with the crony-capitalist plan for driving up costs, mouthing green platitudes that gave them cover for price rises. Meanwhile, the rising cost of oil and gas gave the Government the excuse to argue that they would have risen anyway. They are counting on further rises to come, but may not be so lucky as the shale revolution gathers pace. In a subsidised system, the politician becomes the customer. The companies thought all they had to do to make profits was to pick up the phone to the Energy Minister, sigh and tell him that they would not build a wind farm unless he raised the “strike price”. That’s how it got to an unbelievable £150 per MWh. As the closure of Britain’s nuclear and coal plants is ahead of schedule, and the opening of green and nuclear replacements is about three years behind, the minister was at their beck and call. Now suddenly they will be realising that they should have been listening to their real customers all along and championing cheap energy.


Maybe even ministers will think the same thing. If so, there is a silver lining. This just might tear up the cosy consensus on energy policy that has driven the current Energy Bill through Parliament so far. After all, the public will get the impression that Mr Miliband is standing up for consumers, albeit against the wrong enemy. David Cameron needs to outflank him or risk looking like a friend of crony capitalists. Around the world, government after government is walking away from the expensive fiasco that is energy decarbonisation. Stephen Harper, of Canada, led the way. Tony Abbott, of Australia, is hurtling down the same path. Spain reneged on its promises to green investors. Even Angela Merkel, now leading a largely Green-free parliament, is being told by leading economic adviser that the gigantic expense of the green “Energiewende” cannot be afforded. She’s already building new coal-fired power stations.


(In passing, I declare a commercial interest in coal.) When he came to power, Mr Cameron thought energy policy didn’t matter much and could be safely contracted out to Lib Dem wishful thinking to guard his Islington flank. In fact, affordable energy is crucial to economic recovery. It deserved a Gove or Duncan Smith to challenge producers and champion consumers. Maybe, by mistake, Mr Miliband will trigger such a rethink.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Syrian Rebels take head off Army Officer

Observers worldwide are shocked at the barbarity committed in the Syrian city of Homs that was captured on YouTube. A video depicts a young boy in the act as he decapitates a Syrian soldier with a sword. The victim had been in the service of dictator Bashr al-Asad. Onlookers cheered on the boy as he killed the man, who was on the ground and with his hands bound behind his back.  The soldier in question was apparently an officer in the Syrian army.
According to the German Dpa news service, sources among the rebels fighting the Assad regime said that a 10-year-old boy decapitated an officer who was among a group of nine others who had been abducted by forces opposed to the regime. Two of them had already been released after their captors were paid a ransom for their lives. The YouTube video detailing the barbaric mutilation of the officer also showed another decapitated corpse, presumably another one of the abducted officers loyal to the Assad regime. It was not known whether the other victim was also killed by the young boy.
In addition to the general outrage over the crime, YouTube has come under fire for allowing the circulation of the macabre video. Some media are broadcasting the images as well.