28 September 2000
Protesters out to overthrow us – Brown

By Donald MacPhail

FARMER protesters who gathered in Brighton this week are simply out to overthrow the Government, claims farm minister Nick Brown.

The 2000 demonstrators outside the Labour Party conference centre and drivers of a 150-strong convoy of tractors only want to shout, not listen, he said.

Pointedly, in his speech to the Labour Party conference on Thursday (28 September), the agriculture minister made no direct mention of the demonstration.

But in a sideswipe at the Brighton protesters, Mr Brown praised the massive farmers protest at the 1998 Labour Party conference.

He said: “At our conference two years ago, a peaceful rally of thousands of hardworking people with real problems came to Blackpool to meet us.

“They hadnt come to shout at us – or to overthrow us. They wanted a chance to explain. They wanted to listen to us, to understand and to help.”

Mr Browns attack follows comments from Cabinet ministers implying that recent fuel demonstrations were a right-wing conspiracy against the government.

Carola Godman Law, co-organiser of the Brighton farmer protests, said she couldnt believe Mr Brown could dismiss the peaceful demonstration in this way.

“It certainly was not an anti-Labour demonstration, we would have given any government the same message,” she insisted.

“It was not a right-wing protest but an appeal for the government to listen and take steps to arrest the decline of farming.”

This appeal, said Mrs Godman Law, fell on deaf ears.

“I dont know how Mr Brown can accuse us of not listening. Ive heard nothing at Brighton to show the government is listening.

“We dont want handouts, were just saying please give us the chance to succeed. And for this we are belittled by Government ministers.”

In his speech, Mr Brown acknowledged that many people in the farm industry are suffering.

Over the past three years farm incomes have been at their lowest for 60 years, and rural workers are “some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable in our society”, he said.

Mr Brown attributed the crisis to low commodity prices, BSE fallout, the weak Euro, technological change and the worldwide erosion of protectionism.

To help agriculture win its way through the marketplace, reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was crucial, he said.

To this end the Government was working to reduce production subsidies and increase payments to enhance the environment and rural initiatives.

Mr Brown also highlighted work on encouraging a supply chain code of practice, setting up the Food Standards Agency and promoting organic farming.