Mass rally hits London

23 January 1998

Mass rally hits London

By Shelley Wright

THOUSANDS of farmers descended on London on Tuesday to continue their fight to keep Britain farming.

After a rally in Westminster, many of the 4000 trooped to parliament to lobby their MPs. At the same time, NFU president Sir David Naish and union county chairmen delivered potato sacks with more than 700,000 signatures of support to 10 Downing Street.

They were accompanied by a group of south-west farmers who had turned up with a South Devon cow, Mayflower, and her calf.

Sir David also handed in a letter for the Prime Minister reiterating the problems faced by farmers and growers and asking for a meeting with Mr Blair before the unions annual meeting on Feb 3.

In a breakaway march, organised by Yorkshire farmer Trevor Stoney, a leg of lamb was delivered to Buckingham Palace along with a letter asking the Queen to support the Keep Britain Farming campaign.

During the rally, where there were speeches of support from other farming, countryside and ancillary-trade leaders, Sir David said the huge turnout reflected the "despair, frustration and anger felt on farms right across Britain".

He thanked all those who had protested peacefully around the country and who had brought attention and support to farmers plight.

"You have done a great job. I am appalled that our businesses are being crippled by political disinterest in the plight of the rural economies and appalled that other rural industries are in danger of going to the wall because of the knock-on effect of our industry suffering the way it is," he said.

"Why is this government so insensitive when we are down and being counted out? Why is it turning its back to the plight of farmers and growers?" he demanded.

Farmers in all sectors were facing the worst financial crisis in living memory.

"But, this government, this listening peoples government, refuses to address the fundamental issues and provide us with equal terms of trade and conditions," he said, referring to the UKs lack of green £ compensation.

"I say again, what we want is equality, and the chance to compete on equal terms."

Looking ahead, Sir David said the union was preparing to hold a major lobby in Brussels. And it would continue to meet supermarkets and caterers to push them to adopt country of origin labelling.

But for Glos producer Ben Pullen, the presidents message was not enough. Farmers, including himself, had already done much of what the NFU now promised. "Try and get in front of us. If you could lead us then wed all be better off," he said.

And Trevor Stoney insisted that everything said had been a history lesson to the converted. The rally should have been held in the open air where the public could have heard the message.

He challenged Sir David to join the march to Buckingham Palace. "Is the NFU behind us in this, or, like the last two months, are we going as a farmers march?" he asked.

The president retaliated, telling Mr Stoney: "Dont class me as an idiot", adding that he had been at the forefront of the industry, and working behind the scenes, long before most farmers realised the gravity of the current problems.

Fancy dress costumes and livestock were all on show in London this week at the NFUs Keep Britain Farming rally. 4000 filled the hall in Westminster, most of whom then went to parliament to lobby their MPs. Meanwhile, union leaders went to Downing Street to deliver the 700,000-signature petition of support.

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