Modest potatoes see off cheeky Spanish

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The Independent Online
Boinngg! And Aylesbury Tory David Lidington sprang from his green lily pad to question an agriculture minister about fruit shapes and sizes. Should they not, he asked, be a matter for the consumer, not for bureaucrats? Boinngg! he sprang back again and slumped - spent - his long legs akimbo and his head resting gently on the weaselly Nigel Evan's shoulder. Indeed, replied Tim Boswell (one of the small legion of ministers who protect our agriculture and defend our fisheries), he could reassure the honourable gentleman that the "small orange cox's pippin is safe in our hands".

It is a strange legacy of the post-war years of austerity that farmers and fishers, who employ a quarter of a million Britons all told, should have a ministry and a question time all of their own, when financial services (a million employees), has neither. But this arrangement does make for moments of levity. For, no sooner had Mr Lidington's question been satisfactorily resolved, than Peter Atkinson (Con, Hexham) rose to ask about the "establishment of a modest potato regime".

A modest potato regime? What is this? Government by modest potatoes, presumably. In the last 70 years we have witnessed fascist regimes, communist regimes, military regimes and theocratic regimes (very few of them modest, as it happens), but not potato regimes. One imagines that such a government would be solid, earthy, dull and stodgy. All the members of the cabinet would be dressed in brown sacks, but would have different coloured arms, legs and noses.

The minister did not clarify, but rather confused the issue by referring to similar extant "fruit and vegetable regimes". The first probably refers to the city council of San Francisco; the second to what we have in Britain at the moment. It is the latter that Mr Atkinson would like to see ousted and substituted with his favoured potato regime.

The potatoes would certainly put a stop to the abuses of Britain's hospitality cited by David Harris (Con, St Ives). He told the shocking tale of how a Nimrod aircraft had lifted a Spanish fisherman to the Cornish mainland, only to discover on arrival that he wasn't even ill! (Caramba!) And Spanish fishermen were "turning up in Cornwall and registering for national insurance numbers" (Madre de dios!). You can imagine them waxing their moustaches, adjusting their ear-rings and pulling on their cigarillos, as they lounged in the social security office queue, seeking an easy life on the British dole.

But even this is preferable to their habit of poaching our fish, while (according to Tony Baldry, the minister responsible), "masquerading as UK fishermen". They do this by shaving, slapping on Old Spice to hide the smell of garlic and calling everybody "matey".

Barry Legg (Con, SW Milton Keynes) urged the present regime to "take a leaf out of Sir Francis Drake's book, when dealing with the Armada... " And? "and press these matters at the IGC until they are satisfactorily resolved". I took the heavy tome on English history down from the shelf, and looked up "Drake, Sir Francis". And sure enough, Mr Legg was right. When, in 1588, the Duke of Medina Sidonia and his squadrons were sighted off the Lizard, Sir Francis calmly finished off his game of bowls, collected his briefcase, nipped on Eurostar and took his seat at the IGC. There, as Professor A.L. Elton reveals, Drake "pressed the matter to a satisfactory conclusion".

Subsequent mythology has embellished the event with nonsensical flourishes like fireships and storms. An incoming potato regime (modest or immodest, it makes no difference) will put an end to such inaccuracies.

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