The slap-stick antics of Laurel and Hardy may seem a world away from the glorious traditions of English farming that inspired the creation of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, but if that matriarch of our rural heritage had a voice she could well be heard to say, “Well that’s another fine mess you’ve got me into.” But no one would be laughing.
We’re just days away from the Royal Show, an event that should be the greatest annual celebration of English farming. I specifically say “English” because Welsh and Scottish agriculture – and all those who take great pride in everything it represents – would never allow their flagship events to suffer the humiliation endured by the Royal Show.
Having missed only one Royal Show in more than 30 years, having served on the RASE’s Council for six years and been actively involved in the show itself, I’ve witnessed the steady decline of this prestigious showcase of English farming.
Now, at a time when the RASE should be gearing up for the show of all shows, as food production takes its rightful place on top of the political and public agenda, we learn of the untimely departure of its chief executive.
The RASE’s Council will be unable to effect the appointment of a new boss. It is powerless to bring any significant influence to bear to get this organisation back on track. The RASE, as well as the Royal Show, is run by a board of trustees that holds the remit on important decision making.
Over recent years vast amounts of cash have been ploughed into assessing the viability of development schemes on the Stoneleigh showground, all of which have added to the drain on the RASE’s coffers as plans to develop the site as a “centre of rural excellence” were pursued.
In the end it all came to nothing.
The grandiose dreams left the RASE with debts accrued during a time when it appeared to lose sight of its original function – to fulfil, in the broadest sense, its motto “Practice with Science” and to continue to stage one of the world’s leading agricultural events.
In my opinion the flirtation with Haymarket Land Events – a partnership intended to bale the Royal Show out of the mire – added to the problems. Council was not consulted when the tie-up was arranged, nor when it was decided to terminate it, but to get out of the deal the RASE would have had to go into even more debt.
Over the years there have been many times when Council debated changing the date of the Royal Show. No agreement was ever reached and a decision always deferred. So it was with disbelief, particularly after the livestock section problems of last year, that the Trustees took it upon themselves last July to suddenly change the Royal Show date for 2008.
There remain questions to be answered about what has happened to the RASE and why.
This year’s dates make it almost impossible for many livestock exhibitors to be at both the Royal Show and the Great Yorkshire Show. Is that the way to win back support from disillusioned livestock exhibitors?
Three weeks ago the RASE’s chief executive John Moverley suddenly left. The official statement told us he wanted to “pursue other interests” which must clearly have been very pressing ones to have made him jump ship with such spectacular timing.
The public face of the RASE at this year’s show will be celebrity chef John Torode – its new president. I have great admiration for his achievements on the griddle but I hope this is one kitchen that will not prove to be too hot for him?
Will he pull in the crowds and rescue the Royal Show’s falling public attendance? Can the RASE regain its rightful place in our farming industry? We shall have to wait and see.
But in the mean time there’s one thing that rank and file farming and country folk can do to help the troubled RASE – support this year’s Royal Show.
So please, don’t stand by and let the Royal Agricultural Society of England, such an icon of our farming heritage, sink without trace.
Go the Royal Show, become a member of the RASE and do your bit to save a great English farming institution.
Surely the inheritance of our visionary farming forebears deserve this.