14 April 2000
Farmers’ PR firm linked to Blair’s wife

By Alistair Driver

A PUBLIC relations company campaigning for farmers has denied a conflict of interest after admitting close dealings with the Prime Ministers wife.

Shandwick, which also handles public relations for the Meat and Livestock Commission, represented a group of barristers, including Cherie Blair, in January.

The revelation caused concern among farmers who are manning a vigil outside the House of Commons in a bid bring about a fairer deal for producers.

One protester, who asked not to be named, said farmers had felt Shandwick were increasingly “lukewarm” about the prospect of the vigil continuing.

Shandwick said it did not represent Mrs Blair personally, but acknowledged it had dealt with the Matrix Chambers group of barristers with which she is associated.

A spokesman for the company said: “There is not a conflict of interest – just look at our record.

“We have been doing most of the vigil stunts and have been working well with the people organising the vigil.”

The spokesman said Shandwick was fully supportive of Winnie the Pig, the farmers mascot which raised the profile of campaigning pig producers.

It has been an eventful few weeks for Winnie, who is now an established media celebrity and tourist attraction.

But vigil organisers believe she may have been the victim of a dirty tricks campaign by the government, which has been rattled by the campaigns impact.

Last week, Alan Meale, Labour MP for Mansfield, tabled a question in the Commons about government policy towards the pig vigil.

It was followed this week by a question in the Lords from Lib-Dem peer Lord Watson who asked who had allowed the vigil become “apparently permanent”?

In reply, the Labour peer Lord Bassam said the demonstrators had not requested permission for the vigil from the Royal Parks Agency.

The agency is responsibility for the Parliament Square area, where the farmers have camped round-the-clock for about 10 weeks.

Vigil veteran Malcolm Baxter said the matter has now been cleared up and the demonstration could continue.

All the furore prompted a wry comment from Ken Livingstone, the MP who is standing as an independent candidate for mayor of London.

Mr Livingstone said that, as a fellow victim of a government dirty tricks campaign, his sympathies lay with Winnie the Pig.