Leading article: Waldegrave: a good man doing nothing

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The Independent Online
These words: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing", are attributed to Edmund Burke, the Irish-born statesman and philosopher.

The evil in this instance is the continental practice where calves are raised in crates, never seeing the light of day, confined in their movements and fed a milk diet to keep their flesh white, a method banned in this country in 1990 by the Ministry of Agriculture.

And the good man is William Waldegrave, the British aristocrat and landowner, who allows young calves that are reared on his farm to be sold for export to spend the rest of their short lives in this way - and who is the current Minister of Agriculture.

Charged with this, Mr Waldegrave said that he "stood completely back" from the running of his farm because of his ministerial position, but acknowledged that some of his calves might end up in this way.

Most British farmers detest this continental method of rearing veal and welcomed the decision to ban it here. Indeed, the wife of Mr Waldegrave's own farm manager described the method as "a hideous thing", but pointed out that individual farmers had no control over what happened to the calves after they had been sold. For many farmers, struggling to make a decent living in what is becoming an increasingly competitive industry, this may be true.

Farmers, like many other people in different walks of life, are put in positions where they have to do things which make them feel uncomfortable. For most people, however, there are often high personal costs that go with following their consciences. Indeed, one of the encouraging features of human beings is the way that they are sometimes prepared to take moral stands on difficult issues, despite the pitfalls.

There are no such costs for Mr Waldegrave. He is rich, so there would be no question of his family's standard of living suffering; he is clever; as the son of an earl, he is near the top of British social pecking order; and as the cabinet minister with the agriculture portfolio, he has at the moment considerable influence.

He is also a decent man - although, given his preparedness to "stand back" from this issue, not perhaps a sufficiently thoughtful one.