Janet Street-Porter: The two Davids tell farmers what to do

Click to follow
The Independent Online

My local farmer in Yorkshire has just spent three days in the rain up to his knees in water and mud digging a drainage ditch near my house, for £12 an hour. Who'd work on the land in the winter, when you're paid just a bit more than most cleaners in the posher parts of London? And yet everyone seems to have an opinion about farmers, what they grow, how they run their businesses, and what help they should be given.

A farming conference has been taking place in Oxford this week, and yesterday David Cameron and Defra Secretary, David Miliband, both had their say - and I am sure that most of the 600 men and women in the audience left feeling no more confident that their lives would improve in the future.

Both politicians are gifted in the art of delivering the banal and the obvious as if they have just discovered something really important on our behalf. Mr Cameron has come up with "food patriotism" - apparently we all want to buy British whenever we can. (We'll forget about the massive sale of Italian salami, Parmesan cheese and tomatoes from the Canary Islands in every supermarket from M&S to Tesco, shall we?)

Mr Cameron could have made a speech urging the Government to cut the red tape that blights the farming industry and attacked the Government for yet another computer glitch holding up payments to farmers for carrying out environmental projects - but he devoted his turn in the spotlight to a plea for better food labelling. This is the man who used the launch of the Slow Food movement in Britain at Borough Market recently to declare "It's incredibly important for us to take food seriously." No, really? I had always thought that the food industry was just a multi-billion pound joke! Mr Cameron set out his credentials thus: "I grow vegetables ... I always cook Sunday lunch." Well, bully for you Dave, and thanks for telling me yesterday in Oxford that you've only just noticed that food labelling is about as straightforward as getting a beauty tip off Victoria Beckham.

Mr Miliband is another kettle of fish. His ministerial blog is currently on Christmas holiday, but readers were regaled recently with the following: "My wife has found a pencil case for a godson's Christmas present made out of an old tyre." You couldn't make it up - and I'm sure that any farmers having a struggle to make ends meet, because Defra's computers are in meltdown over the rural payments scheme, will be able to take up your hint and get to work turning their barns into pencil case factories recycling old tractor tyres.

On a serious note, Mr Miliband uses the need for green policies to divert attention from the fact that he is to relax planning laws to allow green belt land to be used for housing, and that greenfield sites will be used for "essential" new national schemes for energy, such as nuclear power stations and sub stations for windfarms.

He announced he will end the subsidies for growing food, encouraging farmers to move into "energy, water and carbon". Not great news if you've a dairy herd operating at a loss because of the pitifully low prices paid by supermarkets for milk. Mr Miliband would like you to diversify into yoghurt and cheese, but there's no guarantee he'll help you fill in all the forms his department have deemed necessary if you're starting up a new business.

Never mind, if you don't fancy making pencil cases, you can whack the yoghurt in trendy tubs festooned with union jacks and I'm sure that Mr Cameron and his cronies will buy at least three dozen at his farmer's market.

'This Life', but not as we know it

I would never revisit a relationship 10 years after it was hot, so I'm not sure why I turned on the television to rekindle my love affair with the gang in This Life. What horrible self-centred bores they've become. The dialogue was so trite, the obsessions so predictable, it was like watching a Farrow and Ball paint chart come to life. The editing was reminiscent of coke-head media land of 10 years ago. At least earlier in the evening they'd repeated Arena, about the 15,000th episode of The Archers. There's a soap which is still unpredictable and engrossing in a way poor Egg, Anna, Milly and Miles are not. And the one-off episode of The Thick of It proves that politicians provide material for a lot more laughs than a group of middle class has-beens.

One of the worst things about early January is the media's obsession with reconstructing our lives for the better. On Radio Four, an extract from a different work is being read every day under the heading, Books To Change Your Life.

* Wednesday's was The Successful Self by Dorothy Rowe. I'd already endured the Archbishop of Canterbury editing Today the other morning, telling listeners he was taking several months off in 2007 as a study "sabbatical" and that's quite enough self-help for one month - I quickly reached for the off button.

Some of us have no intention of starting a diet, embarking on a new exercise programme, examining our work-life balance or planning to talk to relatives in a new caring, interested kind of way in 2007.

No thanks, I'm sticking to the old JSP personality that has served me so well! Even the local post office has a large sign announcing Yoga classes are starting in the village hall - is nowhere sacred?

Comments