The new ‘Old Labour’ leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a vegetarian since he worked on a pig farm at the age of 20.
That, combined with his lifelong socialist views, does not suggest that many farmers will be identifying themselves as ‘Corbynistas’ any time soon.
So why then, as a farmer, do I find myself increasingly in sympathy with this cliché of an unreconstructed bearded leftie who has, almost by accident, found himself leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition?
The first thing that I like about Mr Corbyn is his age. He is 66. According to commentators and modern consensus, this is far too old for anyone in the modern era to rise to the giddy heights of leadership of a mainstream British political party.
But I take inspiration from his success. I can now forget about all those depressing articles in Farmers Weekly about succession planning. Succession? What are you talking about? At a mere 56 I’m just getting started.
Then there is Corbyn’s fabulous stubbornness and determination to stick with a set of ideas. This is a man who underwent a divorce from his wife because he disapproved of her wish to send their son to a grammar school.
In the same vein, for decades he turned his face against any personal advancement in the Labour Party by regularly voting against the leadership as policies changed.
Once more I feel a kindred spirit. In my 30-year farming career I’ve always studiously ignored all changes of any sort. Take direct drilling or minimal cultivation, for example.
These idiotic techniques are re-introduced about every 15 years or so by machinery salesmen until explosive growth in grass weed populations or increasing soil compaction drives everyone back to the plough.
Similarly with cattle, I was invited to splash out on Limousin and Charolais beef cattle and abandon my South Devon and Sussex breeds because they “didn’t have a good enough shape” or “laid on too much fat”. What rot, I declared, and 30 years later where are we?
My pure-bred Sussex cattle are fought over by local butchers because their customers rave about the flavour and texture of the meat. Like Corbyn,
I have learnt to be patient and keep faith with my way of doing things in the sure knowledge that it will become fashionable again – if I wait long enough.
If I still need convincing about Corbyn’s worth then I only have to look at the way he dresses. He is loath to ever put on a tie and, if he is forced into a suit, it is of the gloriously ill-fitting off-the-peg variety.
Corbyn was challenged in 1984 on Newsnight by Conservative MP Terry Dicks who accused him of being scruffy. Dicks suggested that unless MPs maintained higher standards of dress they should be banned from the House. Corbyn replied: “It’s not a fashion parade, its not a gentleman’s club, it’s not a bankers’ institute, it’s a place where the people are represented.”
Funnily enough, those are exactly my objections to being made to wear a tie at breakfast in The Farmers’ Club in Whitehall.
And then there is Corbyn’s extreme care with money. During the 2009 MPs expenses scandal he was revealed to have submitted the smallest amount in expenses of any MP at Westminster.
Once again I am beguiled. It takes me back to when I used to submit my farm accounts to Defra’s Farm Income Survey.
Confused civil servants used to ring me up to query my figures, which showed that the amount I had invested in machinery per acre was less that a quarter of their sample average.
Oh yes, parsimoniousness is an attractive trait whatever the brand of politician.
So, can Corbyn count on my vote in 2020? I will certainly give him very serious consideration provided, of course, that his proposed programme for the “nationalisation of the means of production” stops short of my farm.
Stephen Carr farms an 800 hectare sheep, arable and beef farm on the South Downs near Eastbourne in partnership with his wife Fizz. Part of the farm is converted to organic status and subject to a High Level Stewardship Agreement.