Down on the Farm
22nd July 2003 - Private Eye
After 95 years as the self-proclaimed "voice of British
farming", the "No Effing Use", it seems, may soon be no effing
more. Faced with plummeting membership and spiralling debts, the National
Farmers Union is to close its London headquarters, sacking 50 staff.
The modern office building in
Shaftesbury Avenue is to be sold, along with the “presidential flat”
occupied by “Sir” Ben Gill in Covent Garden. The skeletal remains of the NFU
will then retreat to a bunker in Warwickshire, either at Stoneleigh or
Stratford. Thus will come to an end the farce, connived in by government and
media, whereby Gill and Co continued to be treated as “farmers’ leaders”,
representing the interests of Britain’s farming industry, long after most
farmers had melted away from the NFU because they realised it did nothing of the
Although membership figures have been kept secret, it is thought they now
include less than a third of the 300,000 farmers who survive, as Britain’s
farming continues to stagger through the worst crisis in its history.
What brought the NFU to its knees was its grovelling readiness to collaborate
with the very forces which have made that crisis inevitable.
In the 1990s, when British farming faced unprecedented challenges, starting
with the regulatory disasters which followed on such food scares as salmonella
and BSE, such collaboration finally became indefensible. Faced by an
across-the-board collapse in farm prices after 1997, the only response from Gill
and the NFU was to bleat incessantly about how Britain must join the Euro. The
last straw came during the 2001 foot and mouth disaster. As the obscurantist
alliance against vaccination led by Gill and Professor Roy Anderson brought the
livestock industry to its knees, the NFU played a central part in creating the
most pointlessly destructive crisis British farming has ever faced.
Oft heard from farmers at the time was the comment "I will never trust
the NFU again". As Gill and his henchmen slink off into their bunker, the
message has finally struck home.
As reported by Private Eye on the 22nd July 2003.