“If you can’t feed a country you haven’t got a country”

I’ve never been a great fan of restaurant critic Jay Rayner. Thanks to his condescending manner on foodie shows like Masterchef, he’s known as as “floppy-haired sneery bloke” in our house. But it turns out there’s a time and a place for everything, even condescension. The time is now and the place is the in-tray of our mutton-headed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, the man who famously announced that “people in this country have had enough of experts.”

Apparently Brexit’s great expertise denialist had bit of a change of heart recently and decided to invite a few food experts, including Jay Rayner, to join him for a round table discussion which he hoped might generate a few ideas about what he could do in the new cabinet post he’s been gifted (by Gove’s fact-free standards, Jay Rayner counts as an expert, by virtue of having actually used research and factual information when writing about food security and sustainability).

Sadly for Gove, experts in this country have had enough of people like Gove, so Jay Rayner declined the invitation to join him at his round table. Instead, Jay replied with a caustic open letter. I’ll quote some of it to give you a flavour, but do click though here and read the whole thing:

In the early 1990s Britain’s self-sufficiency in food reached its highest in modern times. We were producing just over 70% of all the food we were eating. Since then the story has been one only of decline. We now produce 60% of our own food, but because of exports only around 50% of the food we eat is actually produced here…

…The huge expansion of a vibrant middle class in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere has challenged the conventional wisdom on the flow of produce around the world. For many years the British supermarkets had free range over the produce from the southern hemisphere. However, many of those producers have increasingly chosen to trade with China and India. In 2000 14% of the world’s middle classes were in Asia; by 2050 that will be 68%. We no longer have unfettered access to the global larder. Given the fall in our self-sufficiency, this means we are now at risk from global shocks…

…And so now the UK sits with dwindling self-sufficiency, in a stormy world in which food has become one of the great economic battlegrounds. Added to that is the appalling folly of Brexit, forced through by a cabal of ideologues happy to trot out falsehoods about the sunny uplands of economic joy that leaving the European Union would bring…

…If, as many fear, a bad deal is done for Britain resulting in huge tariffs and penalties on trade, food price inflation is going to be in double digits for years to come. That’s if we can get hold of food at all. The people who will suffer the most, of course, are those who already have the least. For them the buying of food will use up a massive proportion of their expendable income…

…By leaving the EU the UK will be forced to open itself up to food production practices that are far less healthy, palatable or even safe. Likewise we may end up importing much more meat produced at a much lower welfare standard than we are used to. In short, Brexit risks exposing UK consumers to much lower food standards than we have come to expect…

…I find it extraordinary that, in the correspondence inviting me to the meeting of food experts called by you, your colleague Fiona Gately said that Brexit would not be part of the discussion. She later retracted that verbally; said it was of course something we could discuss. The point I made to her then and I make now is that, where our food supply is concerned, Brexit is the only subject. It is implicated in every single aspect of our food supply chain and risks imperilling the very health of the nation.

A few years ago, when discussing food security in the UK, Lord Cameron of Dillington – a farmer and first head of the Countryside Agency – said Britain was just ‘nine meals from anarchy’. It would take just three days of empty supermarket shelves, just three days of meals missed by hungry children and despairing parents, for the country to descend into massive civil unrest.

When I first heard that statement I regarded it as an interesting and diverting piece of hyperbole. Now it feels to me like a prediction.

Of all the things that were said to me when I was researching my recent an article on the importance of migrant labour to our food supply chain, the one that stayed with me most came from Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation: ‘If you can’t feed a country you haven’t got a country’.

Excellent stuff.


Farage to abandon UK, after screwing it up for everybody else

Rats are well known for leaving sinking ships. Usually the rats themselves aren’t directly responsible for sinking the vessel in question but, in this case, it’s one of the rodents chiefly responsible for gnawing through the hull that’s now thinking about jumping ship:

Reviled by many Britons, including those who voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit campaign that he helped spearhead when he was head of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage has expressed interest in moving to Maine.

Farage cites the animosity he has encountered in Britain and his fears for his family’s safety as motivating his desire to emigrate to the United States. He fails to mention that even his erstwhile supporters became angered when, shortly after urging Britons to vote to leave the U.K., Farage resigned as the UK Independence Party’s leader in a classic political cut and run.

What the good people of Maine will think about introducing this specimen of alien vermin into their native ecosystem remains to be seen, although the author of this article, Pamela Ballinger, sounds suitably unimpressed:

Why should we roll out the welcome mat for a man who sowed divisions in his own country, helped destabilize Europe and then shrugged his shoulders and decided to move on to greener pastures? We’ve got plenty of homegrown political cowards and cheats without having to import one from across the pond.

One wonders, too, what particular appeal (apart from its natural beauty) Maine holds for Farage. Perhaps it’s as simple as the promise of a “new” England in which Farage can reinvent himself.

Or maybe Farage is attracted by Maine’s demographics and nurtures a fantasy of homogeneity and whiteness, one that underwrote his Brexit messaging and led him to exploit the European refugee crisis for political gain.

Or perhaps he’s drawn to a state with a governor who tilts at windmills, given that one of Farage’s first meetings with Trump after the U.S. election involved a discussion in which the president-elect urged Farage and his associates to oppose a proposed wind farm that would affect the view at Trump’s golf course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Or maybe he just thinks we’re simple rubes who won’t know enough about his brand of lies and sleaze to call him out on it. Whatever the reason, we should not normalize such behavior by making Farage feel comfortable here.

However fast Farage runs, let’s hope that his dodgy expenses fiddles still  catch up with him.

Cross-posted here.

“Thick as mince” revisited

I almost wish that I hadn’t said “The main problem with Brexit isn’t the competence of the people trying to carry it out“, now that our leading Brexiteers are routinely generating headlines like this:

Andrea Leadsom mocked after calling Jane Austen ‘one of our greatest living authors’ in House of Commons

…and this…

Britain’s Fox says UK-EU trade deal ‘easiest in human history’, sterling falls

But I still think my point, that Brexit itself is a terrible idea regardless of the calibre of the people trying to make it work, is valid. Of course, the fact that Brexit was originally dreamed up by morons like this probably explains why it’s such an unremittingly terrible idea…

Global Trumpist tantrums

What is this, International Throw Your Toys Out of The Pram Week?

“It will be a lot easier and I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you Republicans are not going to own it,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, in the UK:

Cabinet tensions over Brexit intensified today as Tory sources accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of trying to force Theresa May into storming out of Brexit talks.

An insider told the Standard the pair were using the row over Britain’s divorce payment to the EU to bring talks “crashing to a halt” to engineer a “hard Brexit” with no transitional deal.

“They want a situation where the EU just say ‘enough is enough’ and show us the door,” claimed the source. “They want the hardest of hard Brexits.” Mr Johnson last week caused a furore by saying the EU could “go whistle” for the money it is seeking.

And these are the sort of people who go around calling Remainers “saboteurs.”

Mince, a toad and a sow’s ear

When Dominic Cummings, the former director of Vote Leave, called David Davis, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, “thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus” he was kind of missing the point. Even if Davis was as wise as Solomon, as busy as a bee and as humble as somebody too humble for you to have even heard of, it wouldn’t matter.

The main problem with Brexit isn’t the competence of the people trying to carry it out. The problem is that the flawed idea is predictably falling apart at the proof of concept stage. Arguing about the who’s the best person to deliver Brexit is as pointless as arguing about whether Alice or Bob could brew a better pot of tea in a chocolate teapot.

What’s in Mr Tumble’s spotty bag?

According to the headline writers, David Davis “uses spy-proof briefcase to stop snoopers accessing Brexit secrets.” Which does make me wonder what he keeps in there in there. I’m guessing:

  • One copy of How to Make Friends and Influence People (unread)
  • Several packets of extra soft tissues, for those meetings where you go in telling everybody how you’re going to show the other guy who’s boss, then have to slink out in abject humiliation and cry yourself to sleep
  • Lots of Prozac (see above)
  • A few of those old Commando war comics from the good old days, when Britain’s opponents did the decent thing and died yelling “Donner und blitzen!”, rather than just looking pitying and exasperated like these dastardly Eurocrats
  • A pair of noise-cancelling headphones, to be worn for the whole duration of the Brexit negotiations
  • A large supply of spare underpants (brown)
  • Several passport application forms from countries that still have a chance of not turning into ungovernable basket cases after March 2019



Image © BBC, but I’m, saying fair use. So there.