There’s a strange outbreak of political schizophrenia going on in farming.
Consider the general election. Granny Flindt used to say that all generalisations are rubbish, but it’s safe to say that most farmers will have voted Conservative. It certainly looked that way, driving round the Hampshire countryside – every spare field corner sprouted a gargantuan blue sign.
Being in a business where change happens over generations rather than years, we tend to be conservative (small “c”). We believe in democracy, small government and low taxes.
Candidates were summoned to farmhouse meetings, where they were grilled by hoary handed sons of the soil on earthy topics such as badger culling and disbanding the loathsome BBC. If they wanted to get out in one piece, the Guardian’s line was best avoided. We trotted off to vote, stridently exercising our democratic and hard-won rights.
And then, come election night, we watched in astonishment, along with most of the country, as the experts were proved utterly wrong. I don’t think farmers can claim, Sun-like, that it was they “wot won it”, but the general feeling seems to be that both big “C” and little “c” conservative values had triumphed.
And we went back to our tractors, smiling at the memory of Huw Edwards’ face, as, at 5.54pm on results day, he was winding the programme up and said: “Conservatives are now back in government with a majority of 12.”
Give farmers the prospect of a referendum on EU membership, however, and there’s a sudden 180 degree switch. Suddenly, we’re supporters of an organisation that is profoundly anti-democratic. An organisation that has at its head men and women with no democratic mandate – the Commissioners.
It’s actually worse than that. Messrs Kinnock and Patten were actively rejected by the British people. “No”, we said. “We don’t want you to rule over us.” Somehow, they both made it to EU Commissioner.
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Democracy, EU-style, means giving the people a vote and ignoring the result. A decade ago, the French rejected the EU Constitution 55%/45%, and the Dutch agreed by 62% to 38%. As Daniel Hannan, MEP, has pointed out: “Every single measure – every single measure – proposed by the European Constitution has been implemented: a European President, an EU foreign minister and diplomatic corps, legal personality and treaty-making powers for the EU, a “passerelle” clause to allow further integration without needing new treaties, more majority voting, fewer national vetoes, the whole hog.”
We farmers trying to bang the drum for what we think, in a sad and old-fashioned way, is democracy – but we are going to have a job on our hands.
The NFU, considered by the outside world to represent our views, is firmly in the “EU is wonderful” camp, going so far as to dispatch a senior economist to branch meetings to bang the drum for continued EU membership. At the Winchester one in December, I sat at the back, huffing and puffing, doing my best awkward schoolboy routine.
The debate will rage long and hard, but I’m baffled at farming’s blind spot. In the general election, democracy took precedence over cash (the pound leapt expensively and exactly as expected after our party of choice got in), but we kept silent. When it comes to the EU, only cash counts, and representative democracy can go hang.
I haven’t got time to debate the matter further: I’ve got to have my 10th go at my BPS forms, and then decide how to deal with the neonicotinoid ban. Isn’t the EU marvellous?
Charlie is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.