Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Europe-free farming

A propos our posting on the state of the Conservative Party, our new shadow spokesman for the environment, food and farming, none other than Oliver Letwin, was interviewed at length this morning on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme (7.14 am).

His subject was the fate of small farms under the new regime of the so-called "single farm payments" introduced under the CAP mid-term review, agreed in 2003.

In a relatively long interview, where he was asked to set out Tory policy on farming, Letwin suggested making it easy for farms to diversify, and then offered better labelling to enable consumers to identify the source of their food, plus a review of public procurement policies, enabling public bodies to buy from local farms. He also stated that we must understand that farming was a business activity, but that "the aesthetic and environmental aspects of the countryside cannot be divorced from the business of farming."

What was remarkable about this was that the two specific offering made by Letwin – labelling and public procurement – directly impact on EU policies to the extent that very little progress can be made without contravening EU law. Yet, the shadow spokesman managed to discuss these issues without mentioning "Europe" at all.

And when interviewer Sarah Montague suggested that, in broad terms he was "supportive of the government's approach to this single payments system", Letwin failed to mention the crisis brought about by the implementation of the system, as reported in The Telegraph today. Crucially, he also failed to mention that this was a totally unworkably system imposed on us by the EU.

Interestingly, while Euro-luvvie Adam Nicolson in The Telegraph op-ed, under the title "This must be the biggest bung in the history of universe", makes it clear that the whole "single farm payment" system is totally unsustainable , and equally makes it clear its EU origins, Letwin managed to get through the whole of his interview without once mentioning "Europe" – much less the CAP.

Letwin, we are told, dismisses the idea that he can hold his portfolio without mentioning "Europe", as it has been suggested he might have said. But on current performance, he seems to be doing just that.

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