Notes on culling and other drastic solutions

"The attitude of the Tory government to the cow population of Britain is a bit like the attitude of Boris Yeltsin to the population of Chechnya. Shoot and bomb them until there are so few left that people think the problem has been solved. But this is no solution at all."

The speaker is Ivor Quentin, Professor of Drastic Solutions at the University of Milton Keynes. He has been keeping his eye on the proposals to exterminate all cows over a certain age in Britain, and, frankly, he finds the whole thing madness at the highest level.

"Frankly," he says, "I find the whole thing madness at the highest level. But then, you might say that almost all drastic solutions are madness at the highest level. Think of Hitler's final solution for getting rid of the Jews. Think of Stalin's final solution for getting rid of all small farmers in Russia. Think of ... oh, I don't know, think of the Americans' plan for getting rid of almost everyone in North Vietnam. Even if these things seem to work in the short term, they never work out for the best and often create more problems than you had before.... Think of Afghanistan. It was always said, though I never knew how true it was, that when Russian generals wanted to clear a minefield, they set the Russian infantry walking through it. They lost a lot of soldiers, but it certainly cleared the minefield."

How does this tie up with the beef crisis back home?

"There is no beef crisis," says Professor Quentin. "It is only the Tory government who are creating one. The BSE situation has actually been improving all during the Nineties. If you wanted to have a beef panic, it should have been in about 1990. Having one now is ridiculous, but then the Tory government is psychologically prepared to do ridiculous things."

What exactly does that mean?

"Well, you'll find that when governments have been in power too long, they start doing silly things. It is almost like entering second childhood, or getting very wilful in old age. They have dim memories of the days when they were purposeful and dynamic, and they try to repeat those days, but they end up doing silly things, like slaughtering lots of cattle, selling off the railways or, in the case of our government, giving away the railways. Michael Howard's compulsion to build more prisons is the sort of idea that a political party has in its second childhood. It looks dynamic, it sounds purposeful and it is only going to create more problems than it solves."

Is mass culling ever justified ?

"It is very seldom worth it. It leaves so many bad memories behind. The '15 and the '45 and Butcher Cumberland are still bitterly remembered in Scotland. The mass executions after the Monmouth Rising in 1685 are still remembered in the West Country - in fact, the Bloody Assizes and Judge Jeffreys are still bywords for cruelty."

Yes, but at least the West Country didn't rise up again against the Government.

"That's true, but they still don't vote Tory much down there either, even after 300 years. And it didn't do Judge Jeffreys much good either. People tend to forget that he was clapped in the Tower of London as soon as James II died, and he remained there for the rest of his life."

So mass culling never works?

"Hardly ever. I'll be interested to see what happens in the current struggle for power in the rugby world, where the RFU is being culled by the major rugby clubs - that might work."

I'm sorry, I haven't been keeping up with rugby...

"Oh, it has been infected with what Will Carling might call `old fart disease', and the younger members have been trying to eliminate all rugby administrators over 65. Something like that."

A bit like getting rid of Marmaduke Hussey from the BBC?

"That's a little different. Nobody knows why Hussey was ever appointed in the first place, though it may have been on the principle that you should always appoint someone like Hussey so that you've got someone like Hussey around to fire if necessary."

For more details of Professor Quentin's disturbing ideas, send up for his latest factsheet: `The case for selective culling of Tory MPs'