Fields of gold – for some

At last year’s Labour Conference in September the Chancellor of Exchequer, Gordon Brown, impressed the faithful with his grasp of all things financial. He excited the delegates when he turned his attention to Europe’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and informed them that he was going to “tackle the waste of the CAP”. Labour Conferences love all this rhetoric that seems to be doing something when in fact it is all quite meaningless.

How meaningless was shown last month when the European Commission proposed to end big payouts to landowners by capping them at £187,500 per farmer. What was the Labour government’s response? They threw the proposed scheme out, thus ensuring that some of the richest men in Britain continued to receive gigantic cash subsidies.

Here are just a few of the examples. The Duke of Westminster (estimated wealth £4.9 billion) will receive a CAP cereal subsidy of £366,000 per annum, the Duke of Marlborough £568,620, Lord de Ramsey £382,000 and the Duke of Bedford £390,000.

According to the Oxfam report Spotlight on Subsidies, farmers owning 2 per cent of Britain’s arable land collected a fifth of the £1 billion paid in support for cereal crops last year while 15,000 smallholders accounting for 30 per cent of land received 5 per cent of the total subsidy.

An example of the effects that this Labour supported scheme can have on small farmers is illustrated in the Western Mail (22 January):

“Pembrokeshire farmer Gordon Blackburn, aged 62, and his wife Christine, both have to go out to work to make ends meet on their 116 acre farm near Tegryn. They used to milk a herd of 70 cows but decided to switch to livestock farming in 2000 because of the falling price of milk made it unprofitable.”

A far cry from our noble Lords experience down on the farm. Another example of the madness of the market system that is capitalism is highlighted by the Oxfam report. A daily farmer in Wales might receive 15p-a-litre for the milk he produces but dried milk is bought up by the EC and dumped in other parts of the world for a cut-price 8p a litre. This in turn means that a poor farmer in Senegal or Jamaica with only a few cows, loses his livelihood and becomes destitute.

Perhaps at this year’s conference some Labour minister could get a round of applause by promising “to do something” about world hunger. We could understand a standing ovation from wealthy landowners, but a working class response to such remarks should be one of hollow laughter and downright derision.
Richard Donnelly

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