Peter Skinner - What can badgers tell us about this Government?

Peter Skinner MEP
Peter Skinner MEP

After two years of pushing a badger cull, the Conservative-led Government, at the eleventh hour, pulled the plug on Tuesday.

Billed as a postponement the policy now looks dead in the water.

This is not a case of farmers v animal welfare activists.

Scientists and MPs from all parties have said very clearly that a cull is no answer to bovine TB.

If evidence wasn’t enough recent polling found that 81% of the public were against while only 3.4% supported the cull.

But Governments shouldn’t solely follow public opinion so let’s take a look at the evidence.

A decade-long culling trial was conducted by the Government-backed Independent Scientific Group on bovine TB. Reporting in 2007 they concluded that a cull would be: ‘highly likely to prompt increases, rather than reductions, in the incidence of cattle TB’. This is due to the disruption that culling creates to badger setts – it causes the animals to flee their habitat in panic, spreading bovine TB to other badgers and cattle.

Labour warned the Government that a cull was bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife. There is no case for the cull. This should mark an end to all cull plans not just a temporary reprieve.

However there is a bigger picture here.

The Government’s handling of the badger cull has been incompetent and the latest in a series of u-turns. It is yet another example of shambolic policy making.

Tuesday’s announcement marks an unholy hat-trick of policy reversals for the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs. First there was the ill-fated plan to sell off our National Forests. Then, at the last minute, the Government was forced to drop its opposition to a ban on wild animals in circuses when it became clear they were set to lose the vote in the Commons.

The Telegraph newspaper has identified a total of 37 u-turns across Government; from cuts to free school milk and the pasty tax to petrol duty and train fares there is a common theme to policy making: indecision.

These constant revisions, rethinks and reversals are symptomatic of a lack of thought and planning. As a result the Government is making expensive mistakes; there is chaos at the heart of Parliament and Whitehall.

David Cameron and George Osborne have regularly professed their admiration for Margaret Thatcher and many of their policies clearly take inspiration from her legacy. In 1980 the Iron Lady gave her most famous speech. While vigorously applying her policies to the 21st century it appears the Prime Minister and his Chancellor have struggled a bit with the key message of ‘the lady’s not for turning’.

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Peter Skinner - MEP for the South-East