Friday, April 07, 2006

Fallen in with the wrong sett

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

When I wrote it earlier this week I treated the subject with some levity. Since then things have become more serious. Chris Black on Moonlight Over Essex reports the following crime:

The Labour Party has been left without election candidates in five Southend Council wards after a freak theft.

Nomination papers for next month's elections were stolen from the back seat of a car minutes before they were to be submitted...

The papers were stolen from the back seat of a car belonging to Southend West constituency secretary Ron Kennedy, who had stopped in Tintern Avenue, Westcliff, to get signatures from two party members before handing the forms in at the Civic Centre

Westcliff? Stealing from a car? I think we know who is to blame. You can live with petty vandalism, but when badgers start threatening the democratic process it is time to act.

Anyway, here's the column...

Animal insurgents

Life is grim in Southend, as David Amess tells it. The pier has burnt down three times and the cliffs are falling into the sea.

Amess hopes the pier will be back in time for the opening of the 2012 Olympics. I hope so too. But London won by portraying itself as a place apart from the rest of Britain – a ‘world city’ with 200 nationalities. (Ken Livingstone aims to have insulted all of them by the time the torch arrives.) That funky, multiracial London is certainly a place apart from Southend. Believe me, David, when the Olympics open there won’t be a whelk in sight.

But, Amess told the Commons in the adjournment debate before the Easter holidays, Southend faces a worse problem than unstable cliffs or incinerated piers. Badgers.

In Leigh-on-Sea and Westcliff gardens have been taken over by urban badgers. Garages are collapsing and house are being undermined. Fences have been smashed, pets attacked and property destroyed.

Amess didn’t mention them, but there are reports that young badgers have been seen on the pier playing with matches. (Most of them are good lads at heart; they’ve just fallen in with the wrong sett.)

It was around this point in the debate that David Heath said: “The House is treating the honourable gentleman’s comments with some levity, but the issue is serious. I used to be woken up every Sunday morning by people complaining about the badgers in Castle Cary.”

What else is there to do on a Sunday morning in Castle Cary? I suppose you could go to church: they might sing “Brock of Ages”.

Amess did not have a remedy for the badger menace beyond a meeting between the relevant minister and the residents. He raised the proposed cull of badgers to prevent the spread of bovine TB, but it was hard to tell where he stood.

If there is a serious point here, it is that changing farming practices and housing development are doing strange things to the natural world. Foxes have already worked out that urban life has a lot going for it (the dustbins, the coffee bars, the theatres) and now the badgers have caught on too.

You just wonder why they have chosen Southend if it’s as grim as Amess makes out.

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