Rural Payments Agency

Acres and acres of madness – and they call this reform

At the bottom of the garden we have a paddock, and on evenings like this I can think of no lovelier place on earth.
The buds have budded. The trees are in leaf. The lambs are making a racket. The rabbits show a boldness that verges on insolence.
Everywhere I look I see nature transpiring at every pore with the green joy of photosynthesis. I see the hawthorn blossom, rolling for miles in great gunsmoke clouds.
I see the shade starting to lengthen from the old oak, and the lovely rickety fence, on which I sometimes balance champagne bottles and shoot them off with an airgun, and I lie down on the springy grass and look up at the pale moon in the blue sky and I breathe a sigh of deep and unchallengeable contentment.
Sometimes, you know, I just can’t believe my luck. Because it turns out that I am not only the possessor of a magnificent paddock. I am a farmer. Yes, folks, I am a Tibullan agricola.
I am Marie-Antoinette. I have managed to hitch my wagon to the gravy train of the CAP and clamp my jaws about the hind teat of Defra.
By virtue of possessing 0.3 hectares of grass, excluding the dilapidated outside privy, I am apparently eligible for subsidy!


You think I am mad; but read the 98-page booklet provided by the Rural Payments Agency and you will find your lungs tightening and your lips blibbering into a pant-hoot of pure amazement at the insanity of our masters.
The government – Brussels – the taxpayer – whoever – is seriously going to pay me 10 euros a year merely for being the owner of this blissful patch of grass and rabbits. I don’t have to farm it, in any meaningful sense.
I don’t even have to graze a pony, though I could. I can use it for clay pigeons. I can use it for hot-air ballooning, it says here in the pamphlet.
I can organise motocross events or nature trails across the paddock. Provided I don’t do it for more than 28 days a year, I can even have car-boot sales.
I can invite Billy Smart’s circus to pitch their big top in the paddock, or I can let it out as a location for television.
Year after year, the cheque will come in from Brussels via Defra, 10 princely euros, as a thank you to me and my family for doing – well, for doing absolutely nothing except luxuriating in the existence of this paddock.
Weeping with laughter, I decide to ring the Rural Payments Agency to find out if I can possibly have read this right.
Yes, they say, it sounds like you qualify. Yes, they say, there are plenty of people who have been given subsidy entitlements for having pony paddocks, just like the one you describe. Yes, it is OK to mow it. Yes, it is acceptable to use the land for having barbecues, playing rounders or nude sunbathing. Yes, says the Rural Payments Agency, you can have a pony paddock and attract the subsidy, without going to the trouble of having a pony. Yes, says the agency (now with a tremor of exhaustion in its voice), you are right in thinking that you are getting the money for nothing at all except keeping the land in “good environmental condition”.
Fantastic! I say. Where do I send the form? And it is only then, of course, that I discover the catch.
My paddock qualifies in every respect. This beautiful, if tiny, corner of Oxfordshire is entitled to all the dignity that goes with being a CAP-funded estate – except that, like a complete fool, I missed the deadline, in May 2005, for registering my claim.
Through sheer stupidity, I failed to grasp that last year the government changed the basis on which agricultural subsidy is to be paid.
Under the reforms of the CAP, farmers are no longer rewarded for growing barley or rearing suckler cows. It is the end of paying Greeks for growing acres of fictitious olives.
Under the brilliant new single farm payment, the Greeks and the rest of us are to be rewarded simply for having grown acres of fictitious olives in the past.
You no longer need even to pretend to grow the olives; you simply have to show that you have title to the land and that you are keeping it in good nick, olives or no olives; and that is why the pony paddocks of England are now accompanied by EU subsidy.
If I missed the deadline, there were thousands of paddock-owners who were quicker off the mark, who whanged those forms into the Rural Payments Agency – and who caused the monumental chaos with which you will be familiar.
Across Britain there are farming families who have been driven deep into debt, and farmers who have contemplated suicide, because of the government’s disastrous failure to send out the single farm payments.
They were told they could expect the payment in December; then it was February; then March; and when, by mid-March, Margaret Beckett was forced to come to the Commons and apologise, it was obvious that the system was in meltdown.
And the reason it was in meltdown was at least partly because no one had predicted that the number of subsidy claimants would rise – from 80,000 to 120,000 – as the paddock-owners, the raspberry-growers, the filbert-growers and the possessors of 0.3-hectare marrow patches piled in to register their land.
And, of course, there will be some optimists who point out that the expense can’t be overwhelming, not at 10 euros a paddock.
But if you look at the Rural Payments Agency booklet, you will see how ever more of our countryside is now being sucked into a bureaucratic vortex of madness.
If you claim a subsidy for your orchard (as you may), you have to prove that your trees are 10 metres apart and that the trunks are one metre in circumference; and if you have more than 50 trees a hectare, you’ve got to prove to the inspector that the bases of the trees have previously been nibbled by sheep.
You can grow cucumbers, cabbages and cauliflowers, but not strawberries or mint!
Think of the new legions of bureaucrats being created, who will have to check whether or not you are running your subsidised nudist colony for more than 28 days.
Forty thousand new dependants have been created! Untold acres are now under new and pointless subsidy! And they call this reform? No wonder Margaret Beckett was promoted.

72 thoughts on “Rural Payments Agency”

  1. Boris, forgive me for deviating so early in this thread. Let’s call it a common theme of Labour insanity.

    Promise you will fight, with every breath in your body, Labour’s plans to spy on us beleaguered motorists with satellite technology. (Headlines today claim “every motorist in Britain is to be tracked by satellite and charged for each mile driven”.)

    Of all the Orwellan tricks played by New Labour over the last decade, this is sinister beyond belief. The privacy and civil liberties issues are terrifying.

    If roads are choked, they have two options: Improve the transport network so it actually meets demand, or restrict people’s movements. The latter is the natural NewLab way – another excuse to command, control and regulate, spend vast sums on unproven technology*, pile more unnecessary jobs into the public sector to give an illusion of low unemployment, and make us mugs pay for it.

    Perhaps they should have thought harder before allowing millions of people to take root here without the infrastructure to cope.

    God, how I hate the way things are going. The Britain I grew up in was a special place where a wish for anonymity was respected, where you were free to go more or less where you wanted unencumbered, and where the government and police knew they were there to serve the people, not own them. How hollow is the ring of labelling every state function a “service” these days. They are nothing more than tools for control.

    I do not for one second believe the assurances of transport minister Douglas Alexander that satellite will not be used for recording our movements, checking our speed and position, and issuing prosecutions. This may genuinely be his intention but once these things are in place, night follows day. The system will, for instance, have you charged with going to the supermarket at the “wrong” time. Believe me.

    Spies in the sky. ID cards. More CCTV cameras in Croydon than New York. Yes, mass angle-tagging is only a step away. Ridiculous? Just you wait. You read it here first (well, probably not).

    *And that’s not pie-in-the-sky. A brand new £2,000 Satnav system showed me in the middle of the English Channel last week while driving through Bournemouth.

    OK, now back to subsidised nudist colonies…

  2. This subsidy.

    This would be the one that Scottish farmers, Welsh farmers and Northern Irish farmers have already recieved. Last year.

    And that Defra in England still hasn’t managed to send out. The money that farmers are taking out loans to cover not getting, and of course having to pay interest they can’t recover, and have to pay the quarterly taxes demanded by Defra, the revenue et al?

    The shame here is not CAP, but the fact the Defra still has not shared with English farmers. The money sitting in government coffers, attracting interest.

    Shame you’re not rallying against that. Gosh darn it, if Private Eye haven’t covered it every month this year (even on issues where you’re on the cover 😉 )

  3. Boris, it is all well and good lambasting the CAP, which politicians of all political colours do in the UK.

    But you should at least acknowledge that it was a Conservative PM that signed up to it, and that two Conservative successors in that office have manifestly failed to lift its yoke from our shoulders.

    As Richard North and Christopher Booker explain in The Great Deception, the CAP was created by de Gaulle in the 1960s as a means of getting the European (read British) taxpayer to subsidise the agricultural overproduction threatening at that time to bankrupt the French state.

    Britain’s application to join the EEC was vetoed until the CAP was ratified by the other members of the EEC, making Britain’s acceptance of it a non-negotiable precondition for entry.

    Why don’t you do something really bold and:-

    1. State that Britain should leave the EU

    2. Set out how we could do so and what the transition arrangements would be

    3. Tell David Cameron

  4. Given the abject stupidity prevailing in almost every aspect of contemporary British politics, forgive me for not giving a toss about this one.

    Surely there are more important, significant and (to be perfectly honest) interesting issues to address?

  5. Yes, Joe – like Orwellian spy cameras tracking our every movement.

    The meadow is important in its own way – and interesting. It may involve only 10 Euros for Boris (if he’d been quicker off the mark) but it opens the lid on this whole grotesque system of over-government, both here at at EU level, which, like these goddam sky-spies, is slowly suffocating us. Sounds pretty important to me.

  6. And Boris, you can also use your 0.3 hectares to re-enact THAT tackle.

    I have a hit-list of targets, against which I would be pleased to see you recreate THAT fine sporting moment. But you probably have your own list to work through first.

  7. Some people find snow-globes and (allegedly) grocery lists ‘interesting’. I can’t think of a subject less absorbing and more devoid of logic than EU agricultural subsidies/policies. Drawing attention to this matter is somewhat akin to writing a column, in amazement, that the sky is blue.

    The absurdities inflicted on us by EU quangos and committees are legendary and frequent; this one is just another instance and no more or less ridiculous than its antecedents. This state of affairs will persist as long as various ‘special-interests-groups’ (French farmers etc.) continue to hold sway with EU politicos.

    As to important, I would have to observe that we live in a country with serious immigration problems; an inept and mendacious government; where our historic rights and perquisites are being scrupulously eradicated and have a war going on in the terrorist capital of the known universe.

    Frankly I could give a rats ass about Boris’ ‘paddock’ and, in all honesty, if this issue is presently at the forefront of his mind, then it’s time he got out of politics and got a job.

  8. Joe, I simply can’t agree. The tale of Boris’s meadow is known as “illustration by example”. It is easier to grasp a subject when it’s brought down to a scale you can understand.

    “A war going on in the terrorist capital of the known universe” is of course a matter of great concern but I, for one, have difficulty getting my head around such a vast subject. There are plenty of places where you can debate it until you’re blue (or red) in the face.

    Illustration by example is a powerful tool; you should not mock it simply because it involves 10 euros. Those 10 Euros speak volumes about the way we are governed these days.

  9. Boris:
    Maybe it’s all clever than you give it credit for. Previously farmers were paid to overproduce, and the single payment seen as the best way of limiting the damaging impacts on other countries, including many poor countries.
    Of course, the absurdities would become even more apparent than they were before. But perhaps some saw that a crafty back door to undermining the CAP altogether. Any maybe that explains why the French were against it.

  10. Boris –
    Strictly speaking it’s more relevant to your last post re. the local elections, but allow me to direct your and your readers’ attention to

    http://www.notfair.co.uk

    It would be great if, like a number of your parliamentary colleagues have done already, you could let us have your views on what would make Britain a fairer place (aside from improving the admin at DEFRA). Many thanks.

  11. JT, I don’t think we need to leave the EU. I think we need some decent politicians in power who are prepared to use our ace card a bit more when negotiating with them; i.e. that we subsidise the damn thing!

    Even if we left the EU we would have to produce most of our goods in conformity with EC standards if we were to export. The British Standards Institute do a great job in influencing the CEN (it’s European equivalent) and lots of EC standards are basically copied from British Standards. Having such standards helps stop the flood of cheap tat from China.

    There’s going to be harmonisation of the service sector in the EU too soon. This means you will be able to shop around easier for banking etc. When this happens, whether we are in the EU or not, if our service sector want to compete then they will have to abide by EU laws.

    If the people we put in Europe were prepared to be a bit more forceful in negotiations and veto stuff until we get what we want then things might be a lot better. We are the biggest net contributor after all; they can’t afford it without the UK. Thatcher negotiated a good rebate from them only for Blair to give it back!

    I love the idea of Boris shooting Champaign bottles of his fence with an airgun! If I had a paddock I would dig a big ornamental pond in it, fill it up with fish and spend my summer evenings catching them. It might be a good idea Boris. It’ll be a lot harder for Ruth Kelly to build her tin huts on a pond.

  12. This is a very serious matter for farmers all over the country, I’ve been writing about it too. Let’s wait and see in the blue-eyed boy Milliband delivers as he promise, 85% of the delayed payments within a week.

    Isn’t it sneakily suspicious that Beckett supposedly sits on this, or acts most ineffectively, then he turns up and on day one waves a magic wand? I don’t believe miracles happen that easily. Or is he the Minister with the golden touch?

  13. That Boris cannot claim a cash advance on his pony paddock, pony or no, cuts me to the very heart. As the distant relative of actual farmers I must say that the amount of sympathy due hobby farming suburbanites is strangely constricted.

  14. All my life I’ve worked with deadlines. Here’s what I know about them:

    If you promise to do something by a certain date, you do it by that date. Or you don’t work again. So if you mess up and have to work fourteen nights on the trot
    to meet the deadline, it’s your tough luck. Shut up and get it done.

    I have no idea (not having the faintest shred of knowledge about the CAP) whether it’s right for everybody to receive thirty euros a hectare, or whatever it is, for doing nothing with it. Sounds barmy to me, but what do I know?

    What I do know is that if the government promised to send out the payments in December, the payments should have gone out; and the minute they realised they might not hit the deadline they should have drafted in the troops. Diverted civil servants from other departments, hired more secretaries, stayed up all night unravelling EU directives, concelling non-essential activities of every description until the problem was fixed. Then they should have paid for all this extra work by cutting dinners and cars and MP’s expenses and all the other perks and fripperies from every area of government and administration, thus ensuring that the cost of their balls-up was not bounced back to the taxpayer.

    On reading this, there are some who will pounce on the suggestion of cutting costs as an indication that I am adopting a Conservative point of view, and advocating the return of Boris’s party to power.

    I’m not. I’d bet Boris’s tiny farm that a Conservative administration would have made exactly the same mistakes, and then tried to weasel their way out of it in exactly the same way.

    Government isn’t honest. Want to prove me wrong on that one, Boris?

  15. raincoaster : I trust you are not aware of the rhyming slang associated with the word ‘pony’.

    If you are , so much more pungent are your remarks.

    If perchance not , may I recommend the book “The Slang Rhesaurus”,
    by Jonathan Green , from Penquin:in paperback.
    Price :Can $9.95 ; it’s a gem.

  16. I think the importance of this article is not the money it costs, or even that this is some ‘major’ breaking story, it is about showing that everywhere that government sticks it nose we come out paying more, and often we come out paying more for what, from the looks of this, is absolutely useless.

    Day by day Labour are slowing undoing a lot of the good work done by the previous Tory governments – Labour may have hand on maintaining what looks like decent ecnonomic performance, but this article, along with the hundreds of similar examples, show that they still want to spend spend spend our money without any consideration for ‘value’.

  17. The EU hierarchy, nominally socialistic in nature (some Champagne hope), after having taken their generous cut in privileges, dole out the remainder,(of that which is not already squandered on those having got themselves into a comfortable ; even profitable hole), to an ever burgeoning army of civil ( are you kidding ) servants. These appear to’ serve’ only when they are not in conference about, for example, the straightness or otherwise of the humble banana.
    BTW , speaking, as Boris was, of rather quaint methods of extracting even more weirdly unreal payments out of the taxpayers’ collective purse for the seemingly ever inventive and insatiable CAP; what is the present EU bounty on the mountain of charred British lamb chops and Spanish vegetables, which must still be available , somewhere in rural France .
    Years ago, as callow youths we used to speak, rather daringly, of the Dutch cap, without knowing precisely what the object was. W do now know what the CAP is to the French, perhaps for easier reference it should be known simply as” Le Beret.” I.e. a bill-less( or peak less) CAP almost exclusively , worn by the French, and which is familiar to us all; since we see it held out often enough.
    As for our remaining inside the restrictive straitjacket which the present form of the EU. We should demand that which we originally agreed upon,; a truly free trade area , without the unnecessary burden or the Government of our sovereign country having to play a very poor minor, even unsighted back row role in ruling our citizens. We should not have the need to kow-tow to the relatively new rulings on human rights, Runnymede guaranteed us those right s when John .R, willingly or not, made his seal on the \Magna Carta. This country started it all , so to speak ,but we are now, at least partly, subjugated by the collective representatives of countries, the citizens of which , less than 70 years ago , had no rights , human or otherwise. This is, in my opinion not too desirable. Free trade: Free Britain

  18. Mac:

    Yes, we have straight bananas
    We have straight bananas today
    We’ve standard potatoes
    And GM tomatoes
    They throw all the rest away;

    We have French apples, old and suspicious
    By Monday they’ll be Golden Delicious
    And yes, we have straight bananas
    We have straight bananas today

  19. ” Across Britain there are farming families who have been driven deep into debt, and farmers who have contemplated suicide, because of the government’s disastrous – – – ”

    Boris comes close to the root of the problem and then veers away from it . It aint ” Britain ” ( wherever that is ) that has the problem of rural payment holdups , it is England – and only England . It is a all of a part of the general bias of the British government against England and the English . The British governemnt hates England and they get away with this in large part because MP’s of English constituencies refuse to stick up for England . Rabbiting on about ” Britain ” is to play into their hands .

    The sooner England has her own Parliament and government – perhaps within a federal Uk – the sooner this , and a host of similar problems for England will be sorted out .
    After all , no problem of delayed rural payments in Scotland – The Scottish parliament/government makes sure that the money gets to Scottish farmers pronto .

  20. Given the abject stupidity prevailing in almost every aspect of contemporary British politics, forgive me for not giving a toss about this one.
    ( Joe Mental )

    Who could possibly disagree?

  21. And Melissa, dear, might you not think about an accessible archive of all these posts of ours.

    At present, it seems they all disappear into cyberspace, first as words, then as bytes, and finally as bits.

    I am not thinking of my own drear messages: I am thinking of the Ancient Submariner.

  22. Mac, sadly I must claim complete ignorance of the rhyming slang “pony” unless, that is, it makes me look really clever, in which case I take full credit.

  23. Whilst I am not as pro ‘market’ as Boris, I believe the ‘market’ occupies the pre-eminent position in all sales principles; my division from Boris’ apparent view (and please forgive me if I have misinterpreted it) stems from my fervent belief that the ‘market’ sometimes needs to have the emergency brakes thrown on. Also, that it’s occasionally important to give people what they need and not what they want; an axiom which is diametrically opposed to the principle of ‘market’ which is entirely driven by want.

    Having established my, somewhat centrist, position on market forces we can proceed to the point at hand, that being it seems, a principle by which land-owners are rewarded for simply owning a chunk of land to the tune of +/-20 quid/year/hectare. Now before I hear the words ‘anarchist’ ringing in my ears, let me make it clear that I have no problem with land ownership; I do, however, have a serious problem with a government making a payment to anyone purely for the virtue of owning an asset. I’m confident that statements like: “Oh, I see you have a Picasso (which you can sell for a bundle of notes). Here’s a large postal order for your evident good sense.” would be universally vilified (with the possible exception of Picasso owners).

    I believe farmers need to primarily practise farming, not landowning. If agricultural manufactories produce a commodity that is undersubscribed and which is consequently consigned to the tip (or third world aid) that is the farmer’s problem and no-one else’s. If my company develops a smartcard system which we can’t sell, I don’t expect a grant from the government because we’ve developed the same thing as 200 other companies. “Sorry mate, there’s no call for it round here!” means that I have lost money, not that I need to be compensated for my stupidity in making something that I can’t sell because there is too much of it about.

    If these subsidies are withdrawn I acknowledge that some farmers will go out of business because, perhaps, the bottom falls out of the artichoke market. Other, farmers will take their place who may also go under. Eventually, the land will be run and operated by a person or organisation who understands market forces and consequently plants things that sell.

    So starts another farming dynasty.

    I feel the need to add that I believe we have all been the victims of a deception. I recall, in my youth, much talk about the EEC and how this would provide a platform for trade in and around Europe. There would be a fee involved but, theoretically, everyone’s market would be bigger. Sounds reasonable enough, why not? Pretty much like paying for a pitch at Bakewell market; bit of an outlay, but there is the possibility of a decent return. Of course, over the years the, apparently benign, EEC has transmogrified into the EU with a common currency (which, bizarrely we haven’t adopted), more rules than you can shake a stick at and a bureaucracy that would put South Africa’s internal affairs dept. to shame.

    I readily admit that I’m a euroskeptic. We’ve been at war with one or another of these bastards for most of the last millennium and Britain is no more part of Europe than Japan is part of China or Cuba is part of the US. It’s a geographic accident, nothing else. This aside, the Franco-Germanic pact for total EU domination is progressing swimmingly. Whilst I have no doubt that many febrile British diplomats and MEPs are belligerently waving their bowlers and umbrellas in consternation, there is as much chance of them making a dent in Franco-Prussian self-help policies as there is of Jose Mourhonio admitting that he’s a second rate manager (on a dollar to trophy scale).

    My earnest advice is simply to tell the EU to give us a ring when they aren’t obsessed with farmers/human rights .

    Now, can we debate something which involves a modicum of logic and common sense.

  24. ‘As for our remaining inside the restrictive straitjacket which the present form of the EU. We should demand that which we originally agreed upon,; a truly free trade area’ (Macarnie)

    Have any of you actually read what we did sign up for?

    The Treaty of Rome:

    http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/treaties/dat/C_2002325EN.003301.html

    The Treaty on European Union:

    http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/treaties/dat/EU_treaty.html#0001000001

    …and then there is the Convention of Human Rights, we all know about that!

  25. Article 33, 1 (b) is particularly fascinating:

    “..thus to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, in particular by increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture;”

    ’nuff said

  26. I readily admit that I’m a euroskeptic. We’ve been at war with one or another of these bastards for most of the last millennium and Britain is no more part of Europe than Japan is part of China or Cuba is part of the US. It’s a geographic accident, nothing else. (Joe M)

    It’s a geographic accident that Devon is part of England as well. I often think we should tell Westminster to just eff off when the bastards send us off to fight futile wars, as they have been doing for the past millennium or so.

    The purpose of the EU has been prevent precisely what Joe’s been complaining about: war. And in that respect, it’s been very successful in opening up borders and creating a European identity (even if Boris complains it hasn’t got a focal emperor for us to worship, like the Roman empire did). And so, despite the bureaucracy, the corruption, and the crazy laws, I remain pro-European.

    Indeed, if the England football team can be successfully run by a Swede, I see no reason why the Prime Minister shouldn’t be one either. Anything would be better than the current occupant. Boris is Turkish, isn’t he?

  27. Come to think of it, it’s a geographic accident that I’m English.

    I mean, I could have been French or Russian, or even Chinese.

  28. “…I often think we should tell Westminster to just eff off…” (idlex)

    That’s really the whole point isn’t it? If enough of your fellow Devonians(?) believe it in their interests to devolve from the rest of Britain I cannot see any reason that they should not.

    I would like to reserve my rights with respect to this same principle with regard to England’s association with Europe.

  29. Ohh….

    ….Boris Jobsone; do you eat? Where does this class war hatred against farmers come from? They grow our food for Christ’s sake!

  30. Joe,

    The best (I mean funniest) bit is..

    ‘ANXIOUS to strengthen the unity of their economies and to ensure their harmonious development by reducing the differences existing between the various regions and the backwardness of the less favoured regions,’

    Anyone care to suggest where the ‘less favoured regions’ are?

    (If this isn’t a 2000 year early attempt at creating a socialist empire what is?)

  31. You no longer need even to pretend to grow the olives; you simply have to show that you have title to the land and that you are keeping it in good nick, olives or no olives; and that is why the pony paddocks of England are now accompanied by EU subsidy. (Boris)

    Was Boris also wailing and cackling when set-aside was introduced in 1992? What party was in government back then? We’ve been paying farmers for years not to grow stuff.

      The UK and the rest of the the EU normally produce more cereals than are needed by their own consumers. However it is expensive to store and export the surplus to other world markets, and the subsidies needed to do so are both costly to the taxpayer and disruptive to world trade. Subsidized EU exports can also undermine the development of local agriculture in Third World countries. Set aside was introduced as part of a programme for tackling the over production of cereals within the EU. A major review of the CAP in 1992 (MacSharry reforms) addressed over production and agreed to reduce the amount of subsidies paid to to farmers for cereals by 35% over the proceeding three years. To help compensate farmers for their loss of income the Arable Area Payments Scheme was introduced. Under this scheme, farmers can claim support payments based on the size of the area used to grow cereals, linseeds, oilseeds and protein crops such as peas, beans and lupins. However, to qualify for these payments, all but the smallest producers must ‘set aside’ part of their arable land, taking it out of production.

    Joe Mental compares farming to smart card systems – just another business. But is that so? We can do without smart cards, and we have done without them for the entirety of human history. But we can’t do without farms. Without farms, we’d most of us be dead. They are vital assets.

    And I think that it is in recognition of this that farmers get hand-outs in the way smart card systems don’t. Europe may at present enjoy a farming surplus, but what is there to say that it always will? Come war, food imports will cease. Come drought and famine, new lands will be needed for cultivation. Britain (and Europe) needs a strategic reserve of farmland, in a way that they do not need a strategic reserve of smart cards.

  32. Just back from my 2 week holiday in sunny, exotic Margate.

    Could anybody explain why John Prescott still gets paid and receives all the usual perks if he has lost his job? As far as I know, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.

    If John Prescott has lost his department and is no longer the Deputy Prime Minister, who the hell is the current Deputy Prime Minister? Nobody? If nobody is doing Prescott’s job, then his job is un-important then ?

    By the way, Miss Temple said her former lover, John Prescott, had a 2 in. long willy !!!

  33. And while everyone’s wailing and howling about the EU, I only need remind myself that the two most objectionable things (for me) to come out of government – the Iraq war, and the ban on smoking -, are entirely Westminster home-grown, with not an iota of EU subsidy to either.

    I bet if the EU had got us into Iraq war, or banned smoking in our pubs, there would be instant shrieking and rending of garments. But when our own government foists them on us, bolstered by rafts of lies and propaganda, well, that’s perfectly OK.

  34. Could anybody explain why John Prescott still gets paid and receives all the usual perks if he has lost his job?

    He has been set aside. He is no longer allowed to sow his oats.

    I am more than happy that John Prescott is now being paid to shut up and stay out of sight. I would personally contribute to a subsidy for Blair to be similarly set aside, and told to just shut up and go away.

  35. “Joe Mental compares farming to smart card systems – just another business. But is that so? We can do without smart cards, and we have done without them for the entirety of human history. But we can’t do without farms. Without farms, we’d most of us be dead. They are vital assets.” (idlex)

    Come on idlex! That’s a total misrepresentation of my comments.

    The point (I thought) I was elucidating, wasn’t that we don’t need farms, simply that we don’t need stupid (as opposed to competent) farmers. Further that, if we leave them to it, market forces will get rid of the idiots and ‘evolve’ the survivors into something useful (and probably not French).

    “…nice little place you got here full of racists, facists and ****wits…” (Boris Jobsgone)
    Or, perhaps, none of the above you sanctimonious prick.

  36. Beats me why farmers – or should I say the planning laws? – do not encourage greater use of marginal farmland for rural-based enterprise.

    Our cities are congested, our major roads chaotic. People waste whole chunks of their lives travelling long distances to their office in herd conditions.

    What better than to relocate some businesses in pastoral locations, especially those in “intellectual” disciplines like IT.

    I would far sooner see small, well designed, discreetly built commercial developments down a country lane than have a farm go bust or throw my money at a farmer so he can watch weeds grow.

    Come to that, wouldn’t a simple solution to urban congestion be a stretching of town and village boundaries by, say, 10%?

    The idea that Britain has run out of land is a gross misconception. You have only to go up in an aircraft or, easier still, view our land-mass on Google, to see how little is developed. I recall reading that only 10% or so is built on. We could easily spread out more.

    PS Ignore Jobsgone. He’s a troll, someone who gets his rocks off abusing people behind a shield of anonymity.

  37. Sorry, Joe, but I don’t see the misrepresentation. You seemed to me to be regarding farming as just another business, and if farmers went under, it was the farmers’ problem, and nobody else’s. Enterprising and innovative new farmers would show up, and grow things that people wanted to buy.

    I think that’s all very well for many industries, but I can think of several reasons why farming should be protected – one of them being that we can do without a great many things in life, but not food.

    On a different line, it might be argued that farmers, more than anyone else, define the English countryside. If we are going to have super-efficient farms that remove all the hedgerows, and use any number of chemicals to enhance growth, we’ll kiss goodbye to the English countryside – whose beauty has no cash value.

    Furthermore, it might be suggested that farmers’ skills extend beyond merely planting and reaping crops, but incorporate an understanding of the cycle of the seasons, of the vagaries of the weather, and of every local variety of life. That is to say that I don’t think you can just slot in a farm manager with an MBA and expect him to run a farm like a hi-tech company.

    Or perhaps I’m just being difficult.

  38. If getting rid of trees and hedgerows made farmers more money the English countryside would already look like the Gobi desert with a few green patches.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree over this one. We’re both expressing opinions and maybe neither of us is right. I just don’t see any (valid) reason to pay farmers a load of my hard earned tax for no better reason than they are farmers; all the ones I know are already richer than Croesus.

    “PS Ignore Jobsgone. He’s a troll, someone who gets his rocks off abusing people behind a shield of anonymity.” (PaulD)
    Offensive, semi-literate knuckle-draggers like this white livered twat piss me off! Whilst disagreement is the seasoning of debate, discourtesy deserves a fat slap.

  39. The reason they haven’t gotten rid of trees and hedgerows is that it’s too capital-intensive. My family’s farm is still laid out on the same pattern it was 200 years ago, because they built the damn fences with boulders and it would cost a fortune to move them. The most we did was tear a wee hole every now and then to make a bunch of them all officially “one field.”

    Farming is a capital-intensive business, and there are no great paydays for most farmers except for that one, final one where they sell out to the developers.

  40. If my memory , it is a poor thing but mine own,,(sometimes long; pedantic; fogged and difficult although it might be), does not completely fail me , we have , at least in my lifetime , already been through the argument of efficient, and effectively aware, largish scale farmer against the picturesque, smock wearing, straw chewing few acre toiling yokel of pre war days. There is hardly less than a chasm between the two ends of the spectrum.

    Hedgerows by the thousand of mile came out ; the remaining several foot wide strips of earth turned into a sizeable piece of newly arable ground , tilled , harrowed , hoed and weeded by combine harvesters, to bring forth heretofore untold amounts of grain and other crops , sorely needed by a besieged nation. We became for the first time in modern times, almost self sufficient.

    Of course there were secondary, less welcome effects of this new revolutionary method of big field farming; soil erosion being chief amongst them.

    The carrot crunching farmers of large areas of GB were dubbed as near Wunderkinder, and rightly so.

    Let us have no talk from some fat jobless, indiscreetly rude idiot change the rural scene into an oversized concrete water- impervious helipad.

    If these hard working ,( and often hard playing), yeoman farmers carry on , not only producing their foodstuffs , but let us be sure they are properly reimbursed , and well ,,for looking after the many , and unique ,stunningly beautiful Landscapes of which we are all always talking, Thwe necessary monies should be taken from reclaimed tranche of our recently; so cowardly surrendered rebate. I should be wrenched from that bottomless gorged Gorgon across the Channel.
    Jobsgone : if the fare offends you here , go find another sty where the swill is more to your taste.

  41. Well it looks like I’m effectively outvoted.

    I have to say I think it’s a bit odd that you all seem to think that it’s okay for some “Get-orf-my-laand” type with (effectively) a big garden gets dibs on taxpayer’s money primarily because they often can’t do their job properly (or they wouldn’t need subsidies).

    Fine, perhaps doctors, policemen and nurses should take the same approach and do the bare minimum required of them; after all they get paid anyway.

    I believe “effort = reward” not “some effort = we get our cash topped up if we make a pigs ear of it”.

  42. Joe :
    If the farmers you are concerned about were those of another nationality, let us for the sake of discussioon , say French; ( although there could be many more equally included if you insist), I would be the first to stop the whole shebang if it were only in my feeble power.We’ve been through the French Alps of butter , and lakes of Vin Plonk, at vast expense: we’ve even been through the valley of the shadow of death by incineration of British lamb by the revolutionary Gallic matchmasters: enough . the revolution was supposed to be long gone. The sheep could have supplied the wool—- I’ve got the needle ; let’s knit on.

    We ought to see to it that the proper farmers , ( not those playing at farming on a postage stamp paddock), the efficient farmers and the productive ones get their just reward, instead of the EU paying for things it does not receive ,for example , from those who have no wish to pruduce anything other than proof that there are a certain number of olive trees , without the yields being made.

  43. Eventually, the land will be run and operated by a person or organisation who understands market forces and consequently plants things that sell. (Joe Mental)

    Get real, Joe. A farm with hundreds of acres can’t suddenly turn to “premium products” like artichokes. Some crops need a major investment in specialist machinery to harvest them – or limitless supplies of cheap labour to pick them by hand.

    A few years ago a modestly-sized farm near us turned part of its land over to vineyards. It was a massive upheaval for them and only made possible by some second-hand equipment they managed to find.

    Some of the whites are drinkable; the reds taste like Windolene. One bottle was so bad we poured it down the sink. The missus wasn’t even prepared to use it for cooking. At £8 a bottle, that hurt.

    I know the couple – they make very little profit even at that price. The grapes have to be sent on a 200-mile round trip for fermenting and bottling (which does rather take the rustic romance out of it).

    People who buy this glug do so mostly to support their local economy. Or clean their windows.

    As I was saying earlier, a farm like this would provide a more useful service and enjoy a steadier income if it offered up a bit of land for siting non-intrusive businesses. But the planners won’t allow it. Someone please give me one good reason why.

  44. Dutchess of Kensington and Harrods said: ‘As far as I know, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.’

    What a howler! Where on earth have you been? Ever heard of Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Tax Credits?

    It’s often the case these days you are better off not working!

  45. Did anyone see Boris on Newsnight last night? They’re running some sort of competition for the greatest headline ever, or something.

    Boris’ choice was the Sun 1980s’ headline “Up Yours, Delors,” with accompanying V sign. Personally, it is one my least favourite headlines, as I regarded it as an unnecessary and gratuitous insult.

    Anyway, for some inexplicable reason, Boris was interviewed at a restaurant table, being served asparagus and a monumental glass of red wine (Coteaux de Languedoc?). So monumental a glass, in fact, that I think an entire bottle could have been emptied into it.

    And, indeed, I suspect it was thusly emptied. For as Boris continued to expound, between mouthfuls, upon the merits of the headline, and its impact on Delors himself, the mop of his hair seemed to expand to almost terrifyingly Beatlesque proportions, his eyes seemed to lose focus, and faint grins rippled across his mouth as he delivered his punchline about Margaret Thather, which was that she could well have said: “I fought Delors, but Delors won.”

    – which (for those too old or young to remember) is a play on a song with the refrain: “I fought the law, but the law won.”

  46. “…the productive ones get their just reward, instead of the EU paying for things it does not receive …” (Mac)
    That’s a reasonable compromise, Mac. My objection is simply to the arbitrary payment to agricultural landowners or people that have ‘farmer’ tattooed on their foreheads and a cabbage patch covered in nettles.

    However, that being said I haven’t really heard any compelling reasons for maintaining the less productive type of ‘farmer’.

    The arguments that have been presented include:
    1) We eat therefore we must support farmers because this is a vital industry.
    My response: I drink beer too but if Worthington’s starts to lose money I don’t see that it is incumbent on me (or the government) to bail them out if they fail to produce a commodity that is in general demand (alcohol free piss, for example). Similarly, what happens if a water company goes belly up (even more vital than food, surely)? The company is liquidated and the assets/rights purchased by another company. (Although under the Labour regime they probably get a pat on the back and a big paycheque)

    2) They look after the countryside.
    My response: So does the National Trust, and I would prefer it if the latter owned these vast tracts of pretty but unprofitable land. We still have to pay for the privilege of it existing but it becomes a national asset not a cash cow for some inbred dynasty and paid for out of my hard earned taxes.

    3) They need specialised equipment to produce different crops and these tools are expensive
    My response: So do almost all companies in niche production markets. Buying this equipment is called capital risk and any purchasing decision needs to be made very carefully. I would offer that such a decision is less carefully made when you know you’re going to get paid anyway (even if the product generated only fetches 3p a tonne on the commodities markets).

    4) “Get real, Joe. A farm with hundreds of acres can’t suddenly turn to “premium products” like artichokes”
    My response: I am real (I think). A farm of a few hundred acres under artichokes could probably supply the entire galaxy. However, A farm which predominantly produces, say, olives, might conceivably stick a few artichokes in as a hedge (as we were inclined to call it down the Exchange). That is, if these alleged farmers are in the business of ‘business’ and not ‘gentlemen farming’.

    Paul (D), if you, and your local community, personally choose to support the couple you mention (with the wine farm) that is entirely your prerogative. I see no reason that I (or anyone who is not a part of your local community) should be obliged to do so. Why didn’t they grow bananas and pinapples or something equally suited to the English climate?

    My apologies, I still remain totally unconvinced about the worthiness of (arbitrary and alleged) farmers to trouser vast quantities of cash with about the same net effect as giving it to a third world dictator.

    Get all these whimsical little pictures of 19th century (“Moi farmlies lived ‘ere since Wiwyum th’ Conkra”) farming types out of your head and look at the situation practically. We are paying them to own an asset, no more, no less.

    It are a travesty.

  47. Did anyone see Boris on Newsnight last night?

    if anyone missed it and wants to check it out, you can watch it on the Newsnight site. It’s the last 7 or so mintues of the show. He must have been cracking himself up with the “I fought Delors and Delors won” line because he appears to be getting – um, rather giggly towards the end.

  48. what happens if a water company goes belly up (even more vital than food, surely)? The company is liquidated and the assets/rights purchased by another company. (Joe M)

    And then sold, as a job lot, pipes and pumps and all, to Outer Mongolia? Do we dig wells? Or haul water from the river?

    So does the National Trust

    I think the proportion of land held by the National Trust is relatively small. But, unless I am entirely mistaken, the National Trust isn’t a charity, but is funded with taxpayers’ money.

    If you don’t object to this, why object to farmers being subsidised?

  49. It’s the last 7 or so mintues of the show. (dmnyc)

    The very last minutes of the show were actually devoted to U2’s Bono becoming editor of the Independent for the day, and in which he wrote a signed editorial which I must confess that I didn’t understand at all. Perhaps he should stick to singing. I furthermore didn’t really understand what RED meant either.

    Fortunately, Bob Geldof wrote a far more legible and coherent piece about Africa’s woes. And I was inclined to agree that trade rather than aid would be the salvation of Africa.

    Unfortunately, I don’t really understand what is happening in Africa these days. The whole place seems to be going to hell either through drought or AIDS or war, and I don’t know what is causing what. For trade to assist, it would seem that there would have to be some sort of stability that increasingly doesn’t exist.

    One result of which is an influx of illegal immigrants into Europe.

  50. “…National Trust isn’t a charity, but is funded with taxpayers’ money.

    If you don’t object to this, why object to farmers being subsidised?…” (idlex)

    For the same reason I don’t mind the odd Rembrandt etc. being owned by the National Gallery (i.e. a state asset). I don’t mind vast tracts of protected land being owned by the state in the least. Indeed, I would say this is probably the right place for uncultivated land and places of natural beauty which are not used (and don’t need to be used) commercially.

    So, I will say it again: I object to any private individual being paid (out of public funds) solely because they own a valuable asset.

  51. “Unfortunately, I don’t really understand what is happening in Africa these days…” (idlex)

    I have spent most of my life in one part of Africa or another and I feel qualified to comment on this matter.

    What’s going wrong is really simple; the vast, vast majority of Africans (of all races) are easy going types who just want to get on with their lives. A very tiny minority are megalomaniac psychopaths. Unfortunately, because of the easy going attitude of the majority, it is this latter group that tends to end up politically pre-eminent.

    Now, as soon as one of these power crazed nutters gets into power, he’s soon feted and seduced by every scumbag on the planet (the British and Americans are particularly good at this) to allow them exclusive rights to mine this or flog that or whatever.

    Because our new-fledged President’s interests now lie almost exclusively outside his own borders, the country rapidly goes to wrack and ruin. Our ‘easy-going’ disaffected masses soon become a bit pissed up with this state of affairs and insurgent groups quickly gain support. Next stop civil war and consequently any money for food, medicine and education gets spent on bullets and tanks.

    As for AIDs, who worries about a disease which will kill you in ten years when you’ll probably get a 7.62 round in the back of the head during the coming week?

    What I don’t understand is why there isn’t a world-wide ban on the sale of ammunition (not guns, there are already too many of these around). If you can’t make it in your own country, you can’t get it from anywhere else.

  52. I think we are biting off more than we can chew in terms of foreign policy. Democracy in the Arab world, education for all in Africa.

    Whats would be wrong with just concentrating on good commonwealth friends we can actually help; stopping the civil war in Sri Lanka for instance.

  53. …the vast, vast majority of Africans (of all races) are easy going types who just want to get on with their lives. A very tiny minority are megalomaniac psychopaths. Unfortunately, because of the easy going attitude of the majority, it is this latter group that tends to end up politically pre-eminent. (Joe Mental)

    If only all politics could be put in such simple terms. And you know what? I think they can.

    Lovely job, Joe.

    Anyone care to sum up UK in this many words?

  54. How about this, PaulD?

    …the vast, vast majority of Britons (of all races) are easy going types who just want to get on with their lives. A very tiny minority are megalomaniac psychopaths like Blair. Unfortunately, because of the easy going attitude of the majority, it is this latter group that tends to end up politically pre-eminent.

  55. Works for me.

    Of course Bliar’s (allegedly) got God on his side too. Apparently he’s going to get judged by Him at some point. Star quality, deportment etc. presumably? I just hope the ‘world peace’ question doesn’t crop up.

    …Although, according to some Moslem mates of mine, G. Dubya is the Devil incarnate, So Tony is the first guy in history to have both of ’em on his team which must be some kind of record and a very interesting statement about Bliar’s skills in diplomacy or another ‘D’, ‘dishonesty’.

  56. How about…

    Britain is a country split between a quiet majority who want to preserve its traditional values and character, and a “modernising” minority who see its future as an annexe of Europe under the ever-tightening control of a remote political/bureaucratic elite as they turn it into a world refuge for the disaffected.

  57. The predicted blockbuster film “The Protocols of al-Khwārizmī” opened today amid some controversy. Based on the book of the same name, it appears to use historical evidence to suggest that the Prophet was in fact gay and that his descendents were really the descendents of his cousin, also called Mohammed. This has been kept secret throughout the years of the Hajira by a shadowy organisation called the Jihad of the Green Crescent. This organisation is notable for the fact that it has members from both major branches of Islam, Sunni and Shi’ite. Somewhat less impressive is the fact that it uses torture and murder to further its aims. Given these claims it is not surprising that many Muslim leaders and scholars have taken issue with the book’s claims and the release of the film is unlikely to calm things down.

    The Tehran Times published an article by the Grand Ayatollah, in which he said he was saddened that many people appeared to believe the story. Although he recognised that people had the freedom to make their own choices he hoped that they might think about how many ordinary Muslims might be offended. He condemned the tactics of some rather dogmatic elements who shouted abuse and even waved fists at cinema queues.

    Osama bin Laden, the fundamentalist leader in Afghanistan called for a world wide boycott of firms and businesses associated with both the book and the film. He supported the remarks of the Grand Ayatollah but said that he should not condemn people who perhaps let their emotions take them too far, although he was against verbal and physical abuse.

    In Europe many Christians, Jews and others of all faiths or none took up the invitation to attend discussion meetings at mosques. In Finsbury Park a lively but good natured discussion took place between an imam from Gay and Lesbian Islamic Movement and a more traditional imam. Further informal discussion took place over tea and biscuits afterwards. It was noticeable how many Muslims, young and old, felt that there was indeed much to think about here and that there were no easy answers.

    Andy Hamilton said that his Radio 4 take on the book, which had upset many Islamic listeners, was in the best tradition of British satire. Since the BBC had not bowed to pressure when showing the Monty Python film “Life of Tariq” or the popular series “Imam Ali” it is unlikely that the repeat of Hamilton’s show will be pulled.

  58. Just catching up. I found the news of Mac’s hospital confinement and was greatly relieved to find him back in tip top condition on this thread. These old tars fight back!

  59. Dear Boris,

    I think you hide a very astute brain very well, and would like to hear you questioning, if not verbally then in print, many of the absurdities that have occured under both the present and last government.

    What distinguishes you in my mind is that you can take a joke and do not take yourself as seriously as many of the pompous idiots who pretend to know how to govern us seem to do.

    My wife and I always enjoy your comments on topical quiz shows and think that secretly Ian Hislop and Paul Merton are really fond of you,is that true?

    sincerely chris

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