28 December 2001

Tony Blair – landslide vote

for FWVillain of the Year

TONY Blair has been voted FARMERS WEEKLY Villain of the Year by an overwhelming 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. There were votes for the government as a whole as well as MAFF and DEFRA. Six cabinet ministers managed to get their own individual votes. But the runaway winner was Mr Blair who, readers said, was ultimately responsible for the governments handling of foot-and-mouth.

Norfolk pig farmer Chris Fogden said: "He dillied and dallied over his governments handling of F&M then proceeded to lie or spin against the beleaguered farming industry, which is in its worst year since the 1930s and faces worse to come."

South-west regional NFU director Anthony Gibson, an arch critic of the government during F&M, was voted farmers weekly Personality of the Year. NFU president Ben Gill was second in the farm personality category and Brigadier Alex Birtwistle, who led the fight against F&M in Cumbria, was third.

Mr Gibson received almost 40% of the Farm Personality vote. Readers praised his TV performances defending farmers during the epidemic. He is the second winner in three years from south-west England. In 1999, the title was taken by Devon farmer Richard Haddock. Last year, it was won by Farmers for Action chairman David Handley from Wales.

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-Somerset border. "He lived F&M with us. He aged 100 years with us. Mr Gibson was the only person that kept us going, from day-to-day, in those dreadful times," they explained.

Many people made reference to Mr Gibsons ability to explain simply what was going on to the general public so they had sympathy for the plight of the farming community. Mary Quicke of Homefarm, Newtown St Cyres, Exeter, said: "He became the most trusted source of information for the general public – a unique farming achievement."

Although most of his votes came from producers in the south- west, others came from much further afield. Catherine Ford, a farmers daughter from Lancashire described him as "a pillar of strength in a time of need".

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, has 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 the task he has undertaken. "He could never please all members but continued to keep the doors open. He was always available on the phone even to a member with seven acres. Thank you Ben."

Mr Ogden, a chartered surveyor from West Yorskhire, said Mr Gills decision to work with rather than constantly fight the government was probably a necessity.

"No doubt he despises this Labour government and politicians as much as we do but the realities of life are that you have to deal with the government of the day." &#42

Isabel Davies

A £200 hamper of British food and drink is winging its way to the lucky winner whose nomination for Farm Personality of the Year was pulled out of a hat by FW Editor Stephen Howe. Farm manager John Errington of Herne Manor Farm, Toddington, Bedfordshire, will receive the hamper in the New Year.

Taking a short break as he planted 1.5 miles of new hedgerow, Mr Errington said it was a nice surprise. "It will be a useful addition in a year that has been very difficult," he said.