Voodoo casts its spell over The Science meets

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The Independent Online
In an average week wild horses could not drag most MPs to agriculture questions. It is bad enough having odd bits of farming chucked into the middle of The Archers, interrupting the adulteries and alcoholism with bolted-on conversations concerning feed prices and farrowing. In the House, the "sons-of-the-soil" self-image and continual complaining of the representatives of British agri-business are more than most human flesh can bear.

But where wild horses have failed in the past, yesterday mad cows succeeded. After all the average Labour member's only contact with livestock is the local city farm, (usually comprising three old goats, a gaggle of bad- tempered geese and a sow called Arthur).

So Opposition MPs mustered instead to represent that significant section of the electorate which depends on eating food for its survival.

That agriculture is a priority for Tories is reflected in the calibre of their ministerial team. The brilliant but choleric Douglas Hogg, with his strange forehead (two odd vertical creases run parallel to his hairline, making it look as though the back and sides of his head have been added quite recently) and small face, has held his notorious temper in check for an entire crisis now.

His second-in-command, Angela Browning, has sensible short hair with sensible voice and manner to match, and is reassuringly broad in the beam. There are many more like her leading girls in choruses of "The Quartermaster's Stores" around campfires all over southern England.

Labour's team is not a success. Hogg's shadow, Gavin Strang, seems assailed with self-doubt and hesitation, as if continually asking himself why Labour should have an agriculture spokesman at all. As with many in public life, the lower his confidence falls, the higher his voice becomes.

When he urged Labour's carefully thought-out eight- point action programme on BSE upon Mr Hogg, it reached dog-whistle pitch.

But the truth is that Labour is not really a big part of this business. Especially now that the focus is shifting to Europe, at whom Tony Marlow cast the first brick. "The biggest problem imposed upon our food industry comes from the European Commission!" he declared. Angela Browning agreed, referring to the "disgraceful decision of the scientists of Europe, based not on the science". Or The Science, as I suspect ministers now think of it. In response to Nick Budgen, she contrasted European practice with our own,

"In this country we take decisions based on The Science. In Europe they failed to do so." The implication was that sur le continent it's The Religion, or The Voodoo that guides policy-making.

David Amess (Basildon) turned to fish: "Essex fishermen are fed up with being allowed to catch only tiddlers, while the rest of Europe are allowed to catch whoppers".

Nicholas Winterton (Congleton) went further. What was being done to "keep pillaging Spanish fishermen out of our waters? What's sauce for the bloody goose is sauce for the gander!"