Owen Paterson – the embarrassing kind of Tory


Paterson, Cameron and Heath

Owen Paterson is not the sharpest tool in the box. Within days of reaffirming his commitment to a policy of massacring thousands of mostly healthy badgers this summer, he now, with exquisite timing, reaffirms his commitment to bringing back blood sports.

This is the man who embarrassed Cameron’s attempt at detoxifying the Tory Party’s image, by voting against gay marriage. The mind already boggles. Now the man whose line in cosy chat goes something like, “Well, nobody wants to kill badgers, but …”, has perfectly revealed his true colours – the colours of the nastiest kind of straightforward old-fashioned, bloodthirsty bastard Tory. For the decent forward-looking humane Tory MPs in the House, this man is an embarrassment. To the decent majority of opposition MPs Paterson is a caricature of all that is indecent and insensitive in Cameron’s Government.

Were it not for Paterson’s clear indication, by his very existence, of the link between those who like to kill animals for sport and those who are desperate to make scapegoats of Britain’s badgers, Cameron and the NFU might just have got away with it. They might have convinced the public that although ‘nobody wants to kill badgers’ it’s a policy which these people are pursuing while crying into their handkerchiefs. Nothing could be further from the truth.  

There is not a single expert outside the Government controlled DEFRA offices who believes that culling badgers can play any meaningful part in the eradication of bovine TB in British cattle. The consensus of informed opinion is that the cull is likely to make matters worse for farmers, rather than better. Yet Paterson and Heath cling to their own layman’s interpretation of what they call ‘the Science’, to justify their ill-advised killing spree, which has already cost the taxpayer in excess of a million pounds, and will cost us millions more by the time they have done their bloody work this year. They cling and cling, and can’t wait for the blood to flow. They evidently think it makes them look brave and sexy. After all, they are heroes to the extreme end of the farming community who are seething for vengeance and need a scapegoat. They are ‘doing something about it’. Sadly, they are doing the wrong thing. One of the most ridiculous scenarios of last year was NFU chief Peter Kendall arguing with the author of the RBCT experiment, Lord Krebs, telling Krebs that his conclusions after a ten-year study in which 11,000 badgers were killed, were wrong. If this weren’t such a serious matter, it would be cause for great amusement. And in fact, this pro-cull bunch are quoting the research of the very scientists who are telling them they are crazy, to justify this carnage. You couldn’t make it up.

  The badger cull is opposed by every animal campaign in Britain. Now functioning as a coalition, under the title of Team Badger, supported by scientists, vets, environmentalists, MPs from all parties, and a growing number of enlightened farmers, we will be working hard in the coming months to make sure every man, woman and child in Britain knows the true awfulness of what is about to happen – nothing less than the destruction of badger families which have been resident in this country for much longer than us Anglo-Saxons, and for no discernible benefit for farmers. There will be no way back, once the shooters with their high-powered rifles begin their dirty work. 

The Team Badger petition against the cull, on the Government’s own website, attracted 100,000 signatures in record time last autumn. The result was a 6-hour backbench-led debate in the House of Commons, at the end of which the vote was overwhelmingly against culling. Shamefully, there was no reaction from the Government whatsoever, apart from restating their intent to cull. The petition lay dormant for a while, because the public believed that Paterson’s postponement of the cull meant that democracy had won the day, and Team Badger had saved the badgers. Not a bit of it. The Government did postpone the cull, Paterson laying the ‘blame’ squarely on the NFU’s shoulders, not because of Parliament’s vote, or popular opinion, or science, but because of their own collective incompetence. They had neglected to get a proper count of the numbers of badgers to be slaughtered, until the 11th hour, when they realised there were more badgers than they’d guessed, and they didn’t have enough gunmen to pull off the cull.

Since the New Year, and especially since Paterson’s speech to the NFU confirming that culling WILL take place this summer, the public are rallying again, and the petition is now heading towards the 200,000 mark. (It’s not too late to sign, and encourage all your family and friends to sign – there’s a button on the TeamBadger.org website.)

Science, popular opinion and Parliament … the badger butchers have the supreme arrogance to continue to ignore all three. But there is more.

This week in the House of Commons I was present at a hearing of the Government’s select committee EFRA, in which various policies for controlling farming diseases were being evaluated, including Vaccination, which is the sane long-term solution to TB in cows, just as it has been in humans. The schemes are all evaluated in purely economic terms of course. The assumption in all their calculations is that the value of a cow is measured by its market worth as a producer of milk, or for its flesh to eat. The value of a wild animal is zero. This fundamental flaw in thinking reflects moral bankruptcy. To any decent, unbiased mind, it is clearly unethical to kill thousands of innocent bystanders, some of which have been infected by a farming disease which has got out of control, in an attempt to solve the problem – even if we thought that the scheme would work. But nobody has the courage to say, “This is WRONG”. They can only appreciate arguments based on money. Valuing a wild animal at zero is an unacceptable position for a government to take.

Ironically, just a couple of corridors away, there was a conference about Valuing Nature going on. This is a concept in which an actual value can be put on animals and the whole natural world. This is the future. Man will have to come to realise the worth of the flora and fauna around him, and put a price on its head, to make it possible to reject plans like this which loose for our grandchildren, in economic terms which politicians can understand. So eventually, like slavery, like burning witches at the stake, decisions to indulge in behaviour like this will be entirely impossible to support. 

But right now? It is unlikely that this Government will voluntarily take its foot off the pedal in this matter. The only hope is if the British public clearly say, with one voice – We will not stand for this. 

Paterson himself is acting very smug, and grumbling about the fact that organisations like the Badger Trust have been ‘slowing him down’. Well, that’s democracy, Owen, though you don’t like to hear it. And democracy ought to be strong enough to derail a hopelessly misguided policy such as this. Ultimately the only safe solution will be to rid this country of the most animal-unfriendly government on record. This folly, added to Cameron’s cavalier, out of touch, attitude to the poor and the disabled, and the destruction of the NHS, will surely ensure that the next general election seeing him hastily packing his bags. 

Paterson? Heath? They will be long gone. Well, they were never the sharpest tools in the box

Brian May 



It’s probably helpful to look at what the position is if we stop arguing about the lame claims that the pro-cull, pro-cruelty team are making. If we allow that their best claim is valid – we are looking at a paltry 16 per cent decrease in bovine TB over the next ten years, assuming the public AND farmers will continue to invest in the killing all that time. The cows will still be suffering. The farmers will still be stressed and struggling, and relations between farmers and the public will be in shreds, with a large section probably refusing to drink milk from culling areas, and turning away from beef.  

Was the destruction of Britain’s oldest inhabitants worth it?  In the end, do you think this is justifiable? 

In the end, it’s a moral decision and one which we must all make together. As usual in moral decisions, there is only one right answer. 

Postscript 2

It’s noticeable that Paterson, for so long trying to justify the cull by misquoting and cherry-picking scientific papers, has now, faced by outraged opposition from the scientific community, changed his tack. He is now trying to convince us that the evidence lies in the experience of other countries. He quotes Ireland and New Zealand as success stories for culling, but once again, scrutiny reveals that this is not true. Over the next few weeks we will be making the true stories known, and exploding the last lame claims for justifying mass slaughter. It is unethical, scientifically unsound, against public opinion and the will of Parliament, and it WILL BE A DISASTER FOR FARMING, as well as Britain’s precious wildlife.

Postscript 3

There are many lame ways that fox hunters try to justify the continuation of this disgusting practice, but Paterson’s is one of the lamest, and easiest to expose as nonsense. He is quoted as saying, “No one is more keen than me to see the Hunting Act repealed because I believe in the management of wildlife.”

This is an utterly fatuous connection to make. There are many ways of ‘managing’ wildlife, and very often, as I am discovering first-hand, the best management is to leave them the Hell alone! But if you enjoy killing, you want to maintain a population so you don’t run out of animals to persecute.   There is plenty of evidence that the hunts actively encourage the breeding of foxes for this purpose. The assertion that fox hunting is a way of controlling fox numbers is a lie. The current generations of Red Foxes in Britain have mainly French blood in their veins because they were imported from France when our own population was wiped out by hunting in the 18th century. They were imported by the hunts to be quarry. Foxes disappeared in the Isle of Wight in the 20th century too, having been persecuted to extinction, and new animals were imported for hunting. It’s quite incredible that some farmers view the hunts as ‘control’ for foxes. But then again many farmers and villagers are intimidated and threatened by the hunts, and realise that if they speak out against them they are liable to get a fox or a pet nailed to their door.

Postscript 4

Under this Coalition Government, law and order in the countryside has been allowed to break down. An estimated 100,000 badgers a year are dug out of their homes and ‘bagged’ to be used for the vile sport of badger-baiting, in which they are literally torn limb from limb by dogs, often having had their legs previously broken so they can’t defend themselves . One of my biggest disappointments  [– redacted text —]. It’s certain that, if badgers are carrying TB, this will accelerate its spread. Yes many farmers turn a blind eye, and there is not the will at government to enforce the law, under which badgers are a protected species.

Similarly the law against hunting foxes with packs of dogs is routinely broken by many hunts. They could offer no defence when the RSPCA recently prosecuted members of the Heythrop Hunt, David Cameron’s own hunt.  What followed was a disgusting backlash from ministers who questioned the RSPCA’s right to prosecute these abusers. The RPSCA was, of course, doing exactly what it is supposed to do, fighting cruelty to animals. 

Make no mistake, Blood fox hunting, as opposed to real drag hunting with a synthetic scent, is a vile and despicable sport. The people at its core are vile and despicable people and, by their very nature, violent – to animals and to humans when they get the chance. Under the Coalition Government, the law is not being upheld, and these criminals are mostly able to go on indulging their need to abuse, with tacit approval from the Government, who are thus complicit in the lawbreaking, and the cruelty. This cannot be allowed to go on. These people must never again be given the power to govern our country.  

© brianmay.com