Gill looks certain

28 January 2000

Gill looks certain

as rival pulls out

By FWreporters

BEN GILL is on course to be re-elected as NFU president after his main rival unexpectedly pulled out of the union elections due to take place on Wednesday (Feb 2).

In a surprise turnaround, militant farmer and former NFU Devon chairman Richard Haddock withdrew his candidacy in a confidential memo to union headquarters. The move leaves Mr Gill and NFU deputy president Tony Pexton in a head-to-head fight to become the leader of one of Britains most powerful unions.

Mr Haddock said he pulled out of the race in the best interests of the industry.

In the past, Mr Haddock has criticised the NFU for being isolated from the interests of many farmers. But in another unlikely move, Mr Haddock said he now backed Mr Gill for re-election.

"He may not have achieved everything we would have liked but no one can question his commitment or work rate. I honestly believe more could be achieved by working with him than against him."

Mr Haddock will still stand for the positions of deputy- and vice-president. But if he fails to win either, he pledged to remain loyal to the union and said he would not walk away.

"If I did get the number one job there would be so many knives thrown," he said. "I can do the job [that ordinary farmers] want me to do from the position of vice or deputy president position more effectively."

Mr Haddock first rejected a nomination two years ago in the election which saw Mr Gill elected to his current role.

This time round, however, hegave every indication he was serious about a challenge. His popularity with grass-roots farmers saw him voted FARMERS WEEKLY Personality of the Year last month. Mr Gill came fourth.

This week farmers jammed our telephone Voteline poll on the NFU presidential elections. Early indications suggested Mr Haddock was in the lead followed by Mr Gill. Tony Pexton was in third place.

Mr Gill now appears almost certain to retain his presidency for another two years. He has visited Devon – a hot-bed of support for Mr Haddock – where he posed for photographers after unfurling a banner promoting British farming.

Mr Gill insisted he was not campaigning. But his election campaign will be further buoyed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and Opposition Leader William Hague who are both due to address the NFU AGM in London next week.

The other candidate for president, NFU deputy president Tony Pexton, is unlikely to oust his old boss. The 92-strong NFU council which decides who becomes union president is notoriously conservative and likely to re-elect a sitting candidate rather than a new leader.

An NFU spokesman said it was a matter for individual candidates to decide for themselves whether or not to stand.

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