There are plenty of political issues about which people in the countryside might want to take issue with Nick Clegg. On the evidence of an interview with the Western Morning News yesterday, however, as the Lib Dem leader prepares to make his keynote conference speech, the badger cull is not one of them.
At a time when the Lib Dems have been trying to set out what differentiates them from their Conservative coalition partners, it would have been possible to imagine Mr Clegg adopting a less forthright and straight-down-the-line approach to the cull. It is, without doubt, a hugely controversial issue and the default position for many people when faced with an issue that involves killing wild animals, is to express revulsion. It would have been easy for the Lib Dems and its unpopular leader to have tapped into the opposition to the cull by expressing something less than total support.
Mr Clegg, however, resisted that temptation when he spoke to the WMN's London Editor Graeme Demianyk at Brighton and, instead, showed much-needed support for hard-pressed dairy farmers who have been driven almost to their wits' end by Labour's years of prevarication on any meaningful plan to deal with bovine TB. He said the disease was causing "huge distress and pain" to animals and to farmers and to fail to tackle it would require a "heart of stone." He also gave good advice to those who might pursue opposition to a cull by using extreme tactics, including the abuse – and worse – of those who must carry out the culls. "It is not sensible for people to start staking out ever more vituperative positions."
There has been plenty of evidence of that going on among the anti-badger lobby in recent days. From the RSPCA's ludicrous suggesting that milk from areas where culls are taking place would be "soaked in blood" – which surely calls into question that organisations right to maintain its Royal patronage – to the secretive campaign by shady organisations warning those connected to the cull that they "know where they live."
All of it, as Mr Clegg makes clear today, is inappropriate at a time when what is needed is a solution to the appalling rural plague that is decimating cattle herds, causing untold distress among farming families and costing the nation an estimated £1 billion in the coming years if nothing is done about it. Mr Clegg may have battles to fight and demons to face as he leads his struggling party through to the next General Election. On this rural issue, however, he will have kept many rural friends and won some new ones.
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The events leading up to the dismissal of founder and inspirational leader of Shelterbox, Tom Henderson, are still the subject of an inquiry. But it seems clear that his removal could do serious damage to the charity and cost it backers. The board had better be sure it acted for the right reasons.