John Gummer MP, the former UK Agriculture Minister who is currently advising Conservative Party leader David Cameron on farm policy, has taken a swipe those in his party who call for a repatriation of the EU’s common agricultural policy:
“There is no doubt at all that unless we get a kind of common deal in the EU farmers will get no money at all. No British government of any kind is prepared to foot the bill. Anybody who dares to talk about repatriation doesn’t care about farming because you won’t have it.”
John Gummer, chairman of the Quality of Life Policy Group set up by David Cameron, told visitors to the UK’s Royal Show on Tuesday (3 July) that the starting point of his report was that climate change changed everything. He said that farmers would have to meet new demands:
“We see it very necessary that farmers and landowners are going to have to play a very different role. They won’t be park keepers or food producers they will be both of those and flood managers. They will be people who will be properly recognised for looking after the land and, if I dare say, paid for it.”
Gummer told the audience that increasing intensity of rainfall and a long-run deterioration in the quality of the soil would have to be addressed with a fundamental change in the orientation of farm policy. He said, “There is no way in which previous policies, right across the board, can merely be tinkered with and accelerated or slowed down simply to meet so huge a challenge.”
The report is still in the drafting stage, and David Cameron is under no obligation to accept it. Interestingly, one of the other Conservative Party policy groups, looking at global issues, is staffed by Neil O’Brien, who runs Open Europe, an anti-EU think tank. O’Brien is a vocal critic of the common agricultural policy, and has argued for dismantling EU tariffs on agricultural imports. O’Brien’s market liberal position is unlikely to go down well with Zac Goldsmith, the editor of The Ecologist magazine and Conservative parliamentary candidate. Goldsmith happens be vice-chair Gummer’s policy review group and is a longstanding critic of globalisation, going as far a founding FARM, an ‘alternative NFU’ representing small farmers. FARM, like the worldwide Via Campesina, looks to trade protection and guaranteed prices to bolster farm incomes and reduce environmentally-damaging ‘food miles’. Steering a path between the Gummer vision, the Goldsmith vision and the O’Brien vision will be an interesting test of David Cameron’s political helmsmanship.