I first met Jeremy Clarkson in the Chipping Norton Bookshop. The excellent Jaffé and Neale Bookshop was where Clarkson always brought his motor books, for him to sign and people to buy. The Cotswold School still carries copies of his books in the library.
More recently, Clarkson has rebranded himself as a farmer. His farm, Diddly Squat, is just twenty minutes from our home and we read his weekly articles in The Sunday Times. We’ve bought his books – signed of course – and I also painted him a picture of his farmhouse and shop. Once, we bumped into him on a Cotswolds Wardens walk as we passed his shop. He wound his window down and we had a chat! This was before his extremely unpleasant behaviour to the Duchess of Sussex.
The second series of Clarkson’s Farm arrived on Amazon Prime last month. His aim is to make his farm profitable. In the first series, he made a profit of £144. Like many other farmers, he is unimpressed about a new yearly payment of £1000 which both farmers and the NFU see as too little too late.
In 2018, I went to a farmers’ meeting in Cirencester. The leader of the meeting warned how bad the loss of EU grants would be. Almost every other farmer there disagreed. That’s perhaps no wonder since Boris Johnson had promised them they would have a much better time if we left the EU.
Fast forward to 2023, and the majority of famers’ views have changed. Clarkson isn’t alone in being furious with the Tory Government. The EU’s post-Brexit subsidy of £2.4 billion per year is disappearing. Farmers are facing a lack of funds with no clear plan. There are five farms around our village. When asked if they are better or worse off since Brexit, most farmers say ‘worse’.
In 2020, 72% supported the Conservative party. Last year, that support had slid to 42%. Let’s see what happens in the local elections in May.
Two weeks ago, the NFU conference held its annual conference in Birmingham. The leader of the opposition was there but not the prime minister. I wonder why not?
In 2019, arch-Brexiter Michael Gove was in charge at Defra. He told the conference, “I want to do everything I can to support our food producers and farmers to lead and prosper in the future.”
Well, Mr Gove, fine words butter no parsnips.
At this year’s conference, root vegetables were also on the mind of Gove’s successor, Thérèse Coffey. Her suggestion that if people can’t get hold of tomatoes, then they should cherish the turnip is going to stick to her for the rest of her political career.
I would respectfully suggest to Ms Coffey that turnips are unlikely to make up for the loss of thousands of farm workers and lorry drivers, or the huge increases on every agricultural cost that mean our farmers can no longer afford to grow tomatoes.