Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why does Private Eye back the farming lobby so uncritically?

Every fortnight The Agri Brigade, the Private Eye column written by "New Bio-Waste Spreader" offers uncritical support to the farming lobby. Which is odd for a supposedly anti-establishment magazine when that lobby is to skewed to the interests of big farmers.

Two weeks ago the column offered an unashamed defence of the Common Agricultural Policy. Surely a radical magazine should be pointing out that this policy costs taxpayers in the West billions and excludes farmers in developing countries from our markets?

And, as the current issue points out, the whole thing is a racket to redistribute money from the poor to the rich. Lord Heseltine, for instance, receives £900,000 a year from the EU.

Elsewhere in the current issue, New Bio Waster Spreader defends the plans for a " super dairy" that was turned down after objections from the Environment Agency. He shows little concern for animal welfare and is much taken with a crackpot scheme for growing trees on abandoned upland pastures.

The best you can say for this column is that it is not as bad as it used to be. A few years ago it was full of vituperation. Any politician who dared question the need to divert large amount of public money to wealthy farmers was viciously attacked and given a rude nickname. Its writer in those days was also a huge snob - Margaret Beckett's caravan kept him in copy for weeks.

What is this piss poor column doing in the Eye?

My theory is that Ian Hislop took over a magazine that reflected the prejudices of its previous editor. Richard Ingrams was essentially a Tory Anarchist with a few left-wing notions that he got from his great friend Paul Foot thrown in. Ruralism was certainly part of this mix, though in those days the magazine's coverage of farming was chiefly concerned with abusing the NFU.

The Ingrams mixture worked and produced a popular magazine, though quite why it worked was always a bit of a mystery. It was certainly a mystery to Hislop, who seems wary of tampering with the Ingrams formula.  with the result that Private Eye now appears increasingly, er, formulaic.


Lavengro said...

The CAP now takes about 35% of the EU budget, way down from the 60% of a few years ago.

It now applies only to meat. Fruit and vegetables are no longer included as a visit to a supermarket will show clearly.*

Much of it now goes on sustaining rural areas in a time of movement to the cities. The benefits of this are not only social. Some countries have huge rural areas that would become not only wild but lawless; we already know that ETA carried out live weapons training in the Landes area of France. Robin Hood and Hereward the Wake may be romantic figures but they are best kept in the books of legend. Their modern-day equivalents are not so nice.

*It is interesting to see how the Britain's utter rejection of the CAP has easily morphed into Greenery and Localism. Just at the time when the CAP is eased, people suddenly realise that it is immoral to import beans from Africa and asparagus from Peru for environmental reasons. Protection must be justified one way or another.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear! The Agri Brigade is the only regularly annoying feature of the Eye for me, and it has more than once made me want to write a letter to the editor.

I always find the column's uncritical support of subsidising farmers strange when compared with the Eye's vigorous opposition to other forms of corporate welfare. If, as we are constantly reminded by the New Bio Waste Spreader, farmers deserve CAP money because they are poor, why can't they use the same social safety net as the rest of us?

Anonymous said...

Here's a copy of a letter I have just sent to the Editor of Private Eye.
I'm sure it won't be published, as Private Eye is not noted for mentioning comments critical of Private Eye - a bit like WikiLeaks and leaks about WikiLeaks - but it's worth a try.
Subject: Unhelpful Bio-Waste Spreading.
Please would you break the news to your Agri Brigade correspondent that cows are not essential to human life? Millions of people, around the globe, live without beef or dairy products.
Frankly, we need a "3,770-cow super dairy" (Eye 1284), in Nocton or elsewhere, like we need the re-introduction of smallpox or the ravings of Colonel Gaddafi.
Perish the thought that New Bio-Waste Spreader has a commercial interest in farming that is corrupting his or her objectivity. Can this possibly be true? I think we deserve to be told.

Reluctant Engineer said...

I can't agree more - the only column that I am continually annoyed by... although I haven't read so much for the last few months.