11 January 2002

Marie bids to be unions first lady

By Isabel Davies

NORFOLK farmer Marie Skinner is one step away from becoming the NFUs first female senior officeholder after accepting a nomination to stand for union deputy president.

Speaking to farmers weekly, Mrs Skinner said she had won the backing of more than 20 influential NFU members, including FW columnist David Richardson and Essex farmer and Nuffield scholar Guy Smith.

She will challenge Tim Bennett for the deputy president position at the NFU elections next month.

Mrs Skinner said Mr Bennett had been in the job for four years and it was time for a change. As an arable farmer, she felt some issues had been neglected and must be tackled. But she also brought with her a regional development and environmental agenda. "I represent where the industry has got to go," she said.

Mrs Skinner dismissed suggestions that her gender would be an obstacle, saying she had operated in a male-dominated environment for many years.

"From the NFUs point of view it would send out some very good messages to the wider world that the union is changing and becoming more representative."

Other candidates for deputy president include current vice-president Michael Paske, Leics farmer Rad Thomas and outspoken Devon farmer Richard Haddock.

Mr Bennett and Mr Paske have both been nominated for the position of president, but neither are expected to stand. This leaves the way open for Ben Gill to be re-elected unchallenged for a third term as union leader.

Top job

Kent grower Jonathan Tipples, who will battle for the position of vice-president, said his bid was no reflection of the job being done by current officeholders. "If one is ambitious to go in for a top job at the NFU, one has to stand against those already there."

Other contenders for that role include Adam Quinney from Worcs, Meurig Raymond from Pembrokeshire, Michael Seals from Derbys and Marcus Themans from Shropshire. Mr Bennett, Mr Paske, Mr Thomas and Mr Haddock have also been nominated for both deputy and vice-president positions.

Although Mr Haddock said he was prepared to stand for both positions, he believes officeholders will stay the same. "To change officeholders at this point in time will be to the governments gain." &#42