Off to the polls again: a Small Farm Future election special

I suppose I should probably honour the imminent general election with a blog post, though unlike last year’s referendum I find myself incapable of getting too excited about it. There’s a lot of agitated Facebook chatter among my political friends locally about the labyrinthine tactical voting logics and ways of trying to stop Brexit in its tracks, while others claim to feel politically homeless and unrepresented by the political parties. What, only just now? Ah well, let’s get an election post out of the way and then I can focus on more important matters (next week’s post: my woodlot).

Apparently, the electorate now divides into three categories: ‘hard remainers’, ‘hard leavers’ and ‘re-leavers’, the latter referring to those who voted remain but think the government now has a duty to leave – some of whom even plan to vote Tory for the first time as the ‘party of Brexit’. I’m not sure about the ‘duty’ bit, but I suppose I’m a re-leaver, though certainly not a Tory-voting re-leaver. All the anguished talk about an eleventh hour deliverance from Brexit seems to me so much wasted breath. The path from David Cameron’s backbencher-appeasing referendum to Theresa May’s hard Brexit is a long one littered with deceit, but what’s done is done.

The referendum result is often taken as a litmus test of one’s true political colours: are you a remainer and therefore a member of the hated liberal metropolitan elite, or a leaver and therefore a true populist? Well, I can’t disavow my remainer instincts or my grounding in a liberal metropolitanism, but nor do I have much respect for over-general chat about how to defeat the threat of populism. Populism, as I’ve long argued, comes in many different forms, with as much clear water between them as there is between the various populisms and ‘mainstream’ non-populist positions. I’m still quite fearful about where Brexit will lead. In earlier posts, I raised the fear of fascism and got a certain amount of stick for it. Maybe rightly – I think I’d now characterise the right-wing realignments we’re seeing somewhat differently, and I’ll perhaps write more about that in the future. But I still read some of the politics that have emerged around Brexit through the lens of fascism. I can see some potentially positive outcomes from Brexit, but it’s a long climb out of the hole we’ve got ourselves into, with a lot of traps along the way.

So to me, this election feels like the phoney war before the real business begins. I’m not even sure why Theresa May decided to call it. Strictly speaking, she surely shouldn’t have done, now the Fixed Term Parliament Act is in force – but I note that one of the Conservative manifesto promises is to repeal the Act. It is, after all, an old and anachronistic piece of legislation introduced by…the Conservatives, as long ago as…2011. All the reasons I can think of for May’s decision basically boil down to Conservative short-term self-interest, though it now seems there’s an outside chance it might backfire, which would be amusing. David Cameron wasn’t exactly a hard act to follow. There’d be a certain satisfaction if May loses next week and steals from him his one remaining accolade as the worst prime minister ever. Certainly, the cult of May is already looking a bit more threadbare than it did just a few weeks ago, and though being the Brexit prime minister can’t be the easiest of jobs, she wanted it – and so far she’s delivered little but empty rhetoric. My punt is on another slim Tory majority, and an election that proves precisely nothing.

But let me not allow my prejudices to get the better of me. I propose to look with an open mind at the party manifestos and – to take a leaf out of UKIP’s immigration policy book – introduce a rigidly objective points system with which to score them in the exercise below, your handy Small Farm Future cut-out-and-keep guide to the General Election 2017. Speaking as a self-confessed egalitarian, all the parties start on zero points – apart from the Conservatives and UKIP who start with -1 on the grounds that, compared to the other parties, the mainstream press gives them a ridiculously easy ride. One benefit at least of Small Farm Future not quite counting as the mainstream press is that I can redress the balance in whatever arbitrary way I choose.

OK, well I can’t run through the minutiae of every policy proposal here, so I’m going to focus the scoring around themes that are of particular relevance to this blog. A manifesto will score positively if it:

  • Mentions farming. At all. Last time, most of them didn’t.
  • Mentions support for farming, particularly small-scale or organic farming.
  • Mentions conservation or biodiversity in a positive light.
  • Focuses on production geared to local needs rather than global trade.
  • Has anything persuasive to say about tackling climate change and transitioning out of fossil fuels.
  • Has anything persuasive to say about tackling social injustice globally.
  • Has anything persuasive to say about tackling social injustice nationally.
  • Addresses the root cause of issues around access to land or housing.
  • Says anything substantially positive about immigration rather than just focusing on the need to control it. Not because I think controlling immigration is necessarily a bad idea, but because a party willing to court the ridicule of the tabloid press’s demonising rhetoric deserves credit.

Conversely, a manifesto will be marked down for:

  • Proposing policies likely to work against any of the aforementioned worthy goals
  • Overuse of hubristic and vacuous phrases such as ‘leading international action against climate change’ or making Britain the ‘world’s Great Meritocracy’ (there’ll be a double penalty for vacuous phrases in capital letters)
  • Flagrantly contradictory policy proposals, especially if justified on flagrantly spurious grounds.
  • Anything redolent of a dodgy ecomodernism.
  • Use of the word ‘leadership’ and of the phrase ‘strong and stable’. The phrase ‘strong and stable leadership’ gets a special booby penalty of minus 10 points.

OK, well since I’m a Great Believer In Meritocracy, I’ll run the rule over the manifestos in order of votes achieved by the five parties at the last election – so we’ll start with the Conservatives.

The Tories do mention farming and agriculture, thirteen times to be precise – so that takes their score up to zero at the get go. Not much on how they’re going to support farming though – other than saying for the sake of stability they’ll commit the same cash support in total to farming as at present up to the end of the present parliament and then rip it all up and start again. How stable does that make farmers feel? Hell, I’m feeling generous – another point, and the Tories open up an early lead. But wait, there’s more – the Tories have ‘huge ambitions for our farming industry’ and ‘are determined to grow more, sell more and export more great British food’. Where are all those land sparers when you really need them? Why not just grow ‘enough’ and sell ‘enough’ food? It’s back to zero, I’m afraid. There’s some fairly vague stuff on delivering environmental improvements, but we’ll be generous again and give them a point. Plus improving animal welfare…which includes the possibility of changing the law to allow people to let packs of dogs loose on foxes. Sorry, but we’re up contradiction creek here, and it takes the Tories back to zero. From here, unfortunately, it all starts going downhill. The manifesto is enthusiastic about fracking – they do it in the USA, so it must be good. Onshore wind isn’t ‘right for England’, though. And as to photovoltaics – er, did we mention how successful fracking has been in the US? All that now puts the Tories at -3. Climate change is mentioned five times, but without real substance – except to say that ‘we will continue to lead international action against climate change’. Oops. Still, it turns out that Britain is a ‘global nation’ – unlike all those other non-global nations wasting space around the planet. And the manifesto is firm – ‘strong and stable’, even – that there’ll be no secession of smaller non-global nations like Scotland from larger ones like the UK – not least because it would make Scotland poorer. That all sounds eerily familiar, but I can’t quite place where I’ve heard these secessionist arguments aired before. Britain is also – oh dear – a fully capitalised ‘Great Meritocracy’, and not only once, but six times over. It sounds good, but what does it even mean? Sorry, I’m too exhausted to find out. But I daresay there’s a few proposals in there to even up the widening inequalities in the country. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’ll actually implement a few of them – so two points there. When it comes to tackling social inequalities globally, we learn that: “British scientists and inventors have helped to address some of the greatest challenges facing the world’s poorest people”…which, as we all know, mostly revolve around an insufficiency of money science. Ecomodernist alert! No proposals here either on dealing with the root causes of the housing crisis, except building more homes – which doesn’t count. Finally, the Tories really shoot themselves in the foot on the taboo phrases count, scoring -13 for ‘strong and stable’, -24 for ‘leadership’ and -70 for ‘strong and stable leadership’.

The final tally for the Conservatives: -115.

Next up is Labour. Their manifesto also mentions farming quite a lot – they do want to preserve export access to European markets, but on the plus side they’re going to protect the domestic market from cheap and inferior imports. They also plan to “reconfigure funds for farming and fishing to support smaller traders, local economies, community benefits and sustainable practices”. Wait, ‘smaller traders’? Is that a sneaky reference to small-scale farming there? I’m not sure, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. They also plan to plant a million trees. They don’t say why, but trees are good, right? So we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt again. And they want to reinstate the Agricultural Wages Board – so there’s a little bit of social equality there. All in all, I’m scoring Labour at four points so far. On climate change, the levels of windy rhetoric are about the same as the Tories, though whereas the Tories are merely continuing to lead international action against climate change, Labour is setting itself the altogether stiffer challenge of reclaiming Britain’s leading role in tackling climate change. Whatever – they still lose a point. Nothing from Labour on wind or PV, but some positive talk about renewable energy and a commitment to banning fracking. So they’re back up to four. They’re a bit firmer – strong and stable, even – on nature conservation, including a proposal to ban neonicotinoids. And despite falling for the same ‘build more houses’ flummery as the Tories, they do at least promise to look into the possibility of land value taxation. Like the Tories, they’re opposed to Scottish independence. Well, the obvious hypocrisy in relation to Brexit is somewhat less than the Tories, but I’m going to dock them two points anyway. Why? Because everyone hates Jeremy Corbyn, right? They gain two points on immigration, however, for refusing to be cowed by the Daily Mailism of the present moment. And they get three points for their social equality agenda – including scrapping the bedroom tax and benefits sanctions. Finally, we just need to see how they fare on the taboo phrases. Pretty well, actually – just three mentions of ‘leadership’ and no ‘strong and stable’.

The final tally for Labour: six points – the frontrunners so far.

Third is UKIP. Once again, farming gets a billing. Indeed, UKIP gives the clearest nod so far to small farms – saying explicitly that it will support small enterprises, cap subsidies at £120,000 and ensure subsidies go to the farmer and not the landowner. UKIP is also the only manifesto that mentions organic farming – albeit in the form of a slightly puzzling aside that organic farmers will be paid 25% more under the stewardship scheme. Puzzling, because currently they get paid 100% more – so is this actually a cut they’re proposing? I guess we’ll never know unless UKIP is voted into power. Which is a longer-winded way of saying we’ll never know. But hell, on the basis of what I’ve read so far I might actually vote for these guys. They even get all Walden Bello and start talking about how African farmers suffer as a result of tariff barriers. So currently they’re running Labour close at four points. But now we start riding the down curve. Obviously, there’s nothing positive in UKIP’s manifesto about immigration. Indeed, we have a splendid case of a flagrantly contradictory policy justified on flagrantly spurious grounds – opening up opportunities for all women by denying all women the opportunity to wear a burqa or niqab in public. This policy is apparently also about ensuring appropriate access to Vitamin D – it’s not liberating not to get enough of it, you see. UKIP will also repeal the Climate Change Act, withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and the emissions trading scheme, remove subsidies from wind and photovoltaic energy and invest in fracking. Ah well, at least they’re not claiming to show global leadership on climate change – but after that little lot it’s back down to zero for them, I’m afraid. On devolution, if Scotland has its own parliament then UKIP wants one for England too. And it’ll abolish the House of Lords. Well, let’s give them a point for all that – who knows, under UKIP we may soon end up with the Peasant’s Republic of Wessex. But there’s nothing serious on social inequalities or on tackling the housing crisis, except the usual schtick on building more houses, albeit in this instance building them in factories. On the taboo phrase count, UKIP infringes with but a single use of the word ‘leadership’.

The final tally for UKIP: a very creditable zero points.

Next up, the Lib Dems. Lots here on farming too, but also this fine brainteaser – ensuring British farming remains competitive by refocusing it around the production of healthy food. No, me neither. Anyway, let’s accentuate the positive – there’s some quite good stuff here on farming…helping new entrants…looking at different ownership models…moving away from direct subsidies…and some specific conservation proposals, such as suspending neonicotinoids. The Lib Dems have a lot to say on climate change, including … yes, you guessed it … that the UK “plays a leadership role in international efforts to combat climate change”. But on the upside they’re going to expand renewables (including onshore wind) and oppose fracking. There’s also stuff on reducing inequalities nationally and internationally – including scrapping the bedroom tax. The Lib Dems are going to build more houses…but at least they’re also going to look at a Land Value Tax. And, like Labour, they’re dissenters to the immigration demonization game. Also, thankfully, there’s no strength and stability in the Lib Dem manifesto … but there are four leaderships.

Putting all that in the Who-should-I-vote-for machine yields this final tally: three points.

Finally, the Greens. Well, what can I say? For an eco-lefty like me, they should be a shoo-in shouldn’t they? But their ‘manifesto’ basically amounts to a few bullet points written on the back of a ticket stub on the way home from the pub. To be fair, they don’t have the funding of the other parties – and I think they’re so darned democratic that they don’t have the structures to knock out a proper manifesto at the call of a snap election. Ah well, let’s see how we fare. They do mention farming, once: they’re going to pass a law “to promote sustainable food and farming”. So that’s good, I guess. Though really I’d like to know what’s going to be in the law. They’re also going to support small businesses. Call me biased, but that amounts to explicit support for small farms, no? Hey! What did you just call me? With the greens, there’ll be universal basic income and land value taxation. And, thank God, no global leadership on climate change, just an undertaking to act ‘strongly’ on it (careful now…don’t try to stabilise it too, will you?) in order to ‘protect the natural world we love’, which is kind of sweet. And, of course, no fracking, nuclear power, coal power stations or fossil fuel subsidies. The Greens will adopt “A humane immigration and asylum system that recognises and takes responsibility for Britain’s ongoing role in causing the flow of migrants worldwide”. And they’re the only party with a clean sheet on the taboo phrases. Under the Greens, there’ll be no strength, no stability and no leadership.

So, totting all that up, WE HAVE A SURPRISE WINNER – the Greens on seven points. And if you think I’m biased, let me remind you that I’ve just subjected each party’s manifesto to a rigorous points-based analysis as fair and objective as UKIP’s immigration policy.

Final thoughts, with a local spin. Last week, I went to a hustings of our five local candidates. I did genuinely think that the Green candidate, Theo Simon, was the best of a bad bunch – a ‘bad bunch’ that included several members of the audience, whose jeers and frequent cries of ‘Bullshit!’ did not, to my mind, exemplify speaking truth to power so much as exemplify speaking bullshit to power. Theo was at his most passionate in calling for free education from primary to tertiary, and a health service able to cater to everyone’s needs. Great, but how do we pay for it? A few weeks back, I discussed the difficulties facing the western capitalist economy as outlined by Wolfgang Streeck among others. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has recently suggested that the costings provided in both the Labour and the Conservative manifestos don’t stack up. My feeling is that the right is stuck in an ideology of spiralling inequality and crumbling public services, while the left complacently assumes that a bit of fiddling with the tax system is going recreate thriving public services for all, overseen from a benevolent political centre. It’s in the face of this kind of thinking that I feel my politics really are populist. The political centre – right or left – can barely hold any longer. Really, we need to start building up again from what ‘the people’ can sustain, locally…which means, in the first instance, from what we can produce on the farm. Ah well, at least all the parties are now thinking about farming – a fringe benefit of Brexit.

20 thoughts on “Off to the polls again: a Small Farm Future election special

  1. I’m enjoying our election – chuckling at the possible prospect of a reduced Tory majority when Mrs MaybeNot only called an election cos she was polling so well against that danger to the public Jezzer Corbyn. Unfortunately we probably will get a Tory majority. I’m not sure this is actually an election the left should want to win – we’re due a recession, there’s massive amounts of debt in the system and county court judgments are on the up as are bankruptcies – no doubt a few wobbles around Brexit would be sufficient tip things over the edge – so a bit of me is happy for her to have ownership of the mess that we’re in (not that she’ll ever own anything). My only worry is that I’m living in the middle of it ;-).

    I’m currently wondering how long it’ll be before the Tory party turns on Mrs MaybeNot. She hung the Chancellor out to dry over the change to National Insurance, sent a couple of stooges on tv and radio to defend her social care plan before denying all knowledge of any such plan as the one she’d announced days earlier and sent another stooge to the ‘leaders’ tv debate last night. Nothing like leading from the back to inspire the troops with confidence. Oh yes and she looked like she might cry when Paxman was interviewing her – the Tories do hate a cry baby.

    • Thanks Bruce – yes I agree this could be a good election to lose…but hopefully only narrowly.

  2. Ouch!
    Does the Tory manifesto really suggest fracking is ok because:
    they do it in the USA, so it must be good?

    Lemmings. Deduct another point.

    But the notion of the USA being held up as something to imitate… I can only wish the notion were deserved in some measure. And then there’s the concern to ‘be careful what you wish for’. The question I’ve got at the moment Chris – how strong do you imagine the USA wannabe pulse is among your countryfolk? Does an argument like the Tories are using here resonate better than say – “They do it in Germany – so it must be ok”.

    • Here’s what the manifesto says – I’ll let others judge the accuracy of my paraphrase:

      “The discovery and extraction of shale gas in the United States has been a revolution. Gas prices have fallen, driving growth in the American economy and pushing down prices for consumers. The US has become less reliant on imported foreign energy and is more
      secure as a result. And because shale is cleaner than coal, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. We believe that shale energy has the potential to do the same thing in Britain, and could play a crucial role in rebalancing our economy. We will therefore develop the shale industry in Britain.”

      And, yes, I’d say “They do it in the US” resonates WAY better here politically than “They do it in Germany”. Can’t imagine May and Merkel holding hands…

      • Very doubtful you’d catch Donald and Angela holding hands either. Recent dustup here from the Donald bellyaching about the trade deficit with Germany. As if it matters in the first place. Grand theater. Visions of Nero singing while Rome burned come to mind.

        I wonder why the Tory manifesto left out the sudden rash of earthquakes in Oklahoma when they were lavishing praise on fracking in the US. Alternate facts I suppose.

      • But, unike the UK, the USA has – until recently no international pipeline connections of note and very limited capacity to export liquid natural gas……

        The Frack Gas producers had few options other than to sell it into the domestic market which then became swamped with gas & prices fell.

  3. No The Tory Manifesto says fracking is a good idea because oil and gas companies gave them half a million quid to say so – some promises Mrs MaybeNot might be able to keep

  4. Chris said:
    ‘re-leavers’, … referring to those who voted remain but think the government now has a duty to leave … but I suppose I’m a re-leaver,

    I suspect some of the “re-leave” motivation is not noble democratic acceptance but merely putting up with it because they (or we – this might include myself) are finally ground down by four decades of Violet-Elizabeth-Bott-ism from the euro-haters. We really don’t want to set off any even more “thcweam and thcweam until we are thick” from the Faragistes. We have a headache and think we might go back to bed …

  5. It seems to me though that there is a genuine question to be asked about the validity of the referendum.

    Firstly there was no contingency planning for a leave vote – from looking at some of the potential implications I suggest that this was at best highly irresponsible behaviour by all the parties apart from the SNP. Given the last minute panic by the anti independence campaign in the Scottish Referendum it becomes hard to understand why no proper study was done and shows Cameron’s incompetence as a Prime Minister.

    Secondly only 52% voted for out. Given the potential implications & irrevocable nature of the decision I suggest that a higher threshold would have been appropriate, the first Scottish Devolution referendum required 50% of the electorate to vote for it while to change the constitution of the Frome Society for Local Study requires a 2/3rds majority.

    Thirdly there was the absence of any vision of what form Brexit might take, and a Government wishing to take that route unlike Scotland. It could have been anything from the Norwegian model ‘EU Lite’ to the Jacob Rees-Mogg of leave to day with no agreement. I suggest that many of those who voted out might have voted differently had the option on the table been clearly put to them.

    Finally there is the age issue with older voters voting out. It has been suggested that in a few years the Brexit majority will have disappeared thanks to The Grim Reaper, however younger voters who voted to remain will be left with the consequences.

  6. I was a reluctant remainer – my remain sympathies driven not by any belief in the virtues of being ‘in Europe’ but by complete antipathy to most of those campaigning for leave. Writing in ‘The Land’ Simon Farlie made the point that while remaining in the EU was a single option leaving covered a number of different options – so I agree with John that the referendum was seriously flawed in it’s conception. But at this point I don’t think there’s that much appetite for even the LibDem proposal for a national vote on the deal that’s negotiated.

    I have no idea quite what leaving will ultimately mean for the UK but the whole thing seems mostly like a distraction from more serious questions. For instance framing the immigration debate around EU membership keeps the conversation away from the drivers of migration – wars we started or are implicated in, resource depletion and water shortages exacerbated by climate change etc etc. In fact politics generally seems like an exercise in not talking about anything very much – its got something to do with our very individualistic culture – questions and answers don’t rise above the level of the personal – how long will I wait to see my GP, will I be better off, pay less tax etc. All seem important but they keep politicians from taking a broader view, thinking strategically, of actually leading….

  7. Of course we could have opted to impose some controls on Migration from the EU but did not.

    In addition to that, the right to move within the EU is a qualified one, however successive UK Governments have chosen not to apply those qualifications…………

    Please note that I simply make these observations as a point of fact and I do not wish to have them taken as supporting any particular view on migration.

    Finally of course there are a large number of abuses within the labour and housing markets that successive UK Governments could have chosen to clamp down on but they have not.

  8. I think John’s right that the referendum was questionable in numerous respects, though I also think that if it were to be annulled now the political fallout would be just as great as the consequences of Brexit – which, for me – as a reluctant remainer like Bruce – do hold out some positive possibilities. I’m sympathetic to the anger of the ‘hard remainers’, but not greatly inclined to join their ranks. I agree with Bruce that politics these days seems to be largely designed as a distraction from the things that actually matter, and Brexit is one (albeit rather important) example of that. As I wrote in an earlier post, the choice on offer was essentially yes for neoliberalism or no for neoliberalism. But a few cracks are opening in the facade. Will the future be any clearer after Thursday? I doubt it.

    Apologies, by the way, for my slow responses at the moment. Bad internet access. Another crack in the facade?

    • “I agree with Bruce that politics these days seems to be largely designed as a distraction from the things that actually matter”.

      So if that’s the case why spend so much time writing about it? Why not focus on identifying and defining what’s important – technology, agriculture, markets, social structures, political organisation etc – for more equitable, low environmental footprint, agrarian societies?

      • I don’t think I do spend very much time writing about it. A quick review of the 50 posts I’ve written since January 2016 suggests to me that only 5 of them took elections or mainstream party politics as their major focus and the other 45 focused on the kind of things you mention as important. But of course there’s a grey area between talking about politics (unimportant) and talking about political organisation (important). I’m not very interested in writing about the issues that loom so large in all the chatter around party politics, and I don’t think I do very much. But I do have an interest in how we get from there to where we ought to be. The changing face of contemporary politics in relation to things like Brexit and the rise of populism etc seem to me important contexts for that. I don’t see the virtue of talking about social structures, political organisation etc in terms that are entirely autonomous from the trajectory of actual politics.

        Incidentally, the average number of comments on the five ‘politics’ posts was 34, and on the rest – 38.

        Anyway, thanks for commenting, it’s always good to get feedback. There’s obviously something about my focus that doesn’t work for you, but I can’t quite get a handle on what it is. I’d be interested in any other views.

  9. It is possible that there could be a significant change in the national mood once the implications of Brexit become apparent.

    • But will these implications actually become “apparent” – will they appear in such a way that the connection is clear? I rather doubt it. Political causality is a highly disputed area even amongst historians.

  10. Just listening to this
    In it Professor Michael Hudson says the job of a politician is to say to their financial backers “I can deliver this constituency…..” (i.e. this segment of the population) for you. He’s speaking in an American context where the money in politics is more obvious but given the deceit inherent in this sort of politics I think the implications will always be obscured.

  11. Big day tomorrow. Wondering what the turnout by the peasant class in PRoW will be. And will their ancestors looking down from above be content with the choices made?

  12. Its 23.21 on 8.6.17 and things look a little ‘interesting’ to say the least.

    If the UK was a ship I would be recommending a round of Board of Trade Gymnastics (Lifeboat Drill)

  13. Had a conversation with my neighbour yesterday morning (June 8th). 2015 he had a UKIP poster in his window – said he’d always voted Tory but was reluctantly going to vote Labour. At that point I was pretty certain it was going to be close. Personally I like the hung parliament – it contains the possibility to impose the need to compromise on our silly political system. I am watching with interest what happens now in the conservative party – could be a slow motion car crash – then again with Brexit negotiations about to start I can’t help feeling we could do with someone Strong and Stable at the helm,

    The two things that concern me most about this election are the incredibly partisan nature of the press – in whose interests are they acting, how does that affect the result and what does that mean for notions of democracy. The second thing is the uneven representation our system creates with different parties requiring very different numbers of votes per seat won. The only figure I’ve found this morning is that the greens got half a million votes but just one seat – I found this info for the 2015 election

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *