It’s the question on everyone’s lips – how will you vote in the referendum in June? Without any hesitation I reply that I will vote to stay in. This completely throws people, because most of the folk I talk to are still undecided. Yes, they reply, but what about the cost? And I tell them I hate all the cost. That I hate all the layers upon layers of expensive bureaucracy.
That I deplore the endless laws and rules that come out of Brussels. One of which, for example, has put the survival of fresh water mussels in the river catchment in which I live, above all else, even above the building of much-needed homes. I’ve been living here for over 50 years and a fresh water mussel has yet to come on to our yard and introduce itself. I go on to say the EU was ok when there were just 15 countries involved.
That its expansion to include countries with lower standards of living is the root cause of most of the problems we see today. As you see, I can go on and on about this and I’m starting to think I’ve said enough. But my questioners seem to think that in questioning me, they have tapped in to a rich source of information. “But what do you think about immigration?” I tell them that I already think there are 10 million too many people crammed on to these small islands, that we certainly don’t need any more, and, what I see as too many people is putting huge pressure on the services we have hitherto taken for granted, services like the NHS and education, and this pressure will only get worse. And I pause, at last, and the person who has been asking me the questions is looking at me bemused.
Thus far I have given them a catalogue of good reasons to vote ‘out’. Their next question is inevitable and is ‘So why will you vote to stay in?’
Because I’m a farmer, because my son is a farmer and because it looks increasingly likely his son wants to be a farmer as well. That I have absolutely no confidence that politicians or consumers in this country care in any way for the future of farming. I couldn’t farm without the annual payment I receive from Brussels. In the year we have just had, whatever the sector you farm in, how many farming businesses could? Very few I suspect.
My payment is equivalent to about 2p per litre to me. I’m losing money anyway and without that payment I would have shut up shop long ago. Only about 2% of the UK population is involved in farming. That makes us a minority of Aboriginal proportions. Within the great scheme of things, how much importance does an electorate of 2% mean to a politician? No need for me to answer, you can work that out for yourself.
Years ago I was on the board of Dairy UK. Occasionally the board would be visited by politicians. One day we had a visit from David Milliband, who was at the time head of Defra. I was given a slip of paper with the question I was to ask. His posse of advisers had seen all the questions a week in advance. I was to ask the last question (which is where farmers generally sit in the scheme of things). But I was there to represent farmers and that was what I was determined to do. I can’t remember what the question was on the paper, I didn’t use it anyway, what’s the point of giving an accomplished politician a week’s notice of a question. No point at all. So what I said was this. I said you have been here for an hour and 20 minutes,
Mr Milliband, you have used the word ‘environment’ countless times but I have noted carefully you haven’t used the word ‘food’ once. I can’t remember what he said in reply, but that clearly represented where his priorities lay. In replying he gave me one of the thinnest smiles I ever saw in my whole life. The posse of advisers gave me a united glare because I had dared to go off script. If looks could kill I would be long gone. It would have been ‘two o’clock from the house, family flowers only, and you are all invited to the village hall afterwards’.
Now the French are very different. More than 30% of the French electorate are of farming stock or a generation away. Over 30% is the sort of proportion that makes politicians sit up and take note. So when UK ‘out’ politicians are asked about future financial support for agriculture, they say there will be so much spare money sloshing about when we leave that we do not need to worry. I doubt it. If there is to be support don’t expect it to be more than token. If we do get support, how we qualify for it will be decided by environmental groups and bird watchers. They are the sorts of people who have been setting the agenda for the UK’s drainage for 20 or 30 years, so you know what to expect.
I shall be voting to stay in because I have more confidence in militant French farmers sticking up for me, because if they gain concessions they will be my concessions as well, than I have in the support I can expect from UK politicians or consumers. Which is a sad reflection of the place we find ourselves in!