28 December 2001
Blair voted farm villain of the year

By Isabel Davies

TONY Blair has been voted Farmers Weekly Villain of the Year by a margin which mirrors his landslide General Election victory.

The Prime Minister received almost 40% of the vote in a poll of more than 1000 of the magazines readers.

Nominations for Farm Villain focused on ministers and civil servants. Six cabinet ministers managed to get their own individual votes.

There were also votes for the government, the former Ministry of Agriculture and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

But the runaway winner was Mr Blair who, readers said, was ultimately responsible for the handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

“He dillied and dallied over his governments handling of foot-and-mouth, said Norfolk pig farmer Chris Fogden.

Then [he] proceeded to lie or spin against the beleaguered farming industry, which is in its worst year since the 1930s.”

National Farmers Union south-west director Anthony Gibson, a critic of the government during foot-and-mouth, was voted Personality of the Year.

Mr Gibson received almost 40% of the Farm Personality vote. Readers praised his TV performances defending farmers during the epidemic.

Andrew and Debbie Tapp said Mr Gibson was the only person they wanted on their TV as the disease loomed closer to their farm on the Devon border.

“Mr Gibson was the only person that kept us going, from day-to-day, in those dreadful times,” they said.

Many people said Mr Gibsons explained simply what was going on to the general public so they had sympathy for the plight of farmers.

Mary Quicke of Homefarm, Newtown St Cyres, Exeter, said: “He became the most trusted source of information for the general public.

NFU president Ben Gill was runner-up Personality of the Year. Brigadier Alex Birtwistle, who fought foot-and-mouth in Cumbria, came third.

Readers who voted for Mr Gill stressed the enormity of the challenge facing him during the past 12 months.

Mr Gill, who also had a few votes in the villain category, faced criticism for being too cosy with government and for putting a block on vaccination.

But Gillian Mortimer of Fire Tree Farm, Metfield, Norfolk said she was saddened that more people did not realise the difficulty of Mr Gills job.

She said: “He was always available on the phone even to a member with seven acres. Thank you Ben.”

Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage
Recovery plan – Full coverage