30 November 2001

NFU leader vows to fight

off challenge to position

By Alistair Driver

and Adrienne Francis

BEN Gill has vowed to fight for his position as NFU president after Michael Paske, the unions vice president, refused to rule out a leadership challenge.

The Derbyshire NFU branch has nominated Mr Paske to stand for president in the unions elections next Feb. The Lincs vegetable grower said it was "early days" but told farmers weekly: "Im very flattered that they should nominate me. I will just have to consider my position carefully."

Mr Gills leadership has come under intense scrutiny during foot-and-mouth. He supported the widespread cull of livestock and effectively vetoed Tony Blairs plans to introduce vaccination. Although he succeeded in getting government help for livestock farmers, Mr Gill subsequently failed to secure £57m in agrimoney aid for arable growers.

Mr Gill became the first sitting NFU president to be challenged for the presidency before being re-elected to the post two years ago. He is likely to be nominated for a third two-year term by a number of county branches. Asked whether he would accept the nominations, Mr Gill confirmed: "My name will be going forward."

Support for Mr Gill is split. Sheila King of Brookfield Farm, Coventry, said: "I can remember watching him on TV and he was nearly crying. He really cared and he did his best for farmers." But Derbyshire farmer Philip Brandon said: "Bens done a great job in a very difficult time, but hes been a bit too cosy with the government."

Mr Paske may yet find himself out of a job. Candidates are reluctant to show their hands at this stage, but Kent arable farmer Jonathan Tipples said he would challenge Mr Paskes position as vice-president. Leicestershire farmer Rad Thomas said he was considering standing for vice- or deputy-president.

Mr Tipples said he was standing for vice-president to further his leadership ambitions. "I have no argument with the leadership who have done a fantastic job under difficult circumstances," he said, before adding: "I think we need a fresh face and we need to be harder when we are talking to the government."

NFU Wales Cymru council members were due today (Nov 30) to elect a new president to succeed Hugh Richards, who is retiring. The only candidate is deputy president Peredur Hughes, an Anglesey beef and sheep farmer. NFU Scotlands leadership elections are due to take place next March. &#42