Press Release

Trouble at NFU - Farmer protests at Unions lack of democracy

On Monday, January 19th from 12 Noon, farmer and NFU member, Tom Rigby will tie himself with baler-twine to a pillar outside the offices of the National Farmers Union on Shaftesbury Avenue, London in protest that ordinary farmer members do not have the right to choose their own leader.

Mr Rigby, a dairy farmer from near Warrington, Lancashire, will hand his petition for real democracy and accountability in the NFU to Council members as they arrive for their meeting on Monday [1].

Asked what he hopes to achieve by his protest, Mr Rigby said, "The NFU is in danger of becoming an outmoded dinosaur, unrepresentative of the majority of farmers - unless it takes up the principle of One Member, One Vote in electing its officers.

For further information, please contact Tom Rigby at home on 01942 671020 or via his wife's mobile 07791-473789.

Please do call on the day between 12.00 Noon and 18.00 pm, although I may be tied up...



Notes for Editors

1. Next month sees the selection of the next President of the NFU to succeed Sir Ben Gill who retires in February. The most likely choice will be current Vice-President Tim Bennett. Despite the fact at a recent opinion poll showed 80% would prefer someone else. Individual members are not allowed to vote for senior office holders, these are chosen for them by the ruling Council.

A firm favourite with farmers would be David Handley, leading figure in Farmers For Action, who was recently voted Farmers Weekly, Farming Personality of the Year with an overwhelming 70% of the vote. Tim Bennett did not figure in the top ten, it is not clear if he got a single vote. Unfortunately, David Handley is not currently allowed to stand having resigned his membership of the NFU in protest over this very lack of democracy. West Country farmer, Derek Mead, who supports the One Member, One Vote call has also thrown his hat in the ring.

The NFU Council has been described by one of its members as: "Eighty-nine decrepit, unimaginative, super-annuated, self-important male ex-farmers and one woman sitting round a table playing the game called Buggin's Turn. The rules are simple; all office-holders move slowly up the totem pole and - provided they don't say anything which will upset anyone - they take their turn near the top."

2. Despite describing itself as, the voice of British farming. The NFU actually represents only around one-third of farmers left in England and Wales. The other two-thirds are represented by a plethora of groups or choose not to belong to any. Notable newcomers and rivals to the NFUs former supremacy are David Handley's Farmers For Action, and newcomer, FARM.
A survey of over 500 farmers in 2002 revealed that 68% believed a new body for farmers was needed, with 28% saying that no existing body represented their views.
A recent poll for Farmers Weekly interactive found that 81% of farmers were in favour of the NFU moving to One Member, One Vote. NFU Councils opposition to such views calls into question its claim to be, the democratic organisation for farmers and growers in England and Wales.

3. NFU Members Petition One Member, One Vote

Farmers cannot be expected to show loyalty to a leader not of their own choosing and as a result farmers become divided, the leadership weakened and our opponents prosper at our expense.We are being squeezed by the retailers, badly served by DEFRA and have a rural recovery minister in Lord Haskins, who thinks we would be sooner be stocking supermarket shelves than farming.

We are victims of divide and rule, kept arguing among ourselves about how the CAP Reforms should be implemented rather than challenging a bad deal for UK farmers. We continue to be disadvantaged in the EU: Oxfam figures suggest that only a fraction of taxpayers money spent supporting the dairy industry actually ends up with farmers. Precise figures are hard to find because even the EUs own auditors have refused to sign the books for each of the last 9 years. It has become the mark of Euro political correctness to say, 'Dont mention the accounts'.

Most shamefully, we have allowed ourselves to be used as a pawn in a power struggle leading to the breakdown of World Trade talks rather than speaking out against the injustices that impoverish millions.

I stand here today in solidarity with farmers of goodwill across the world increasingly marginalized in the Global economy.

I believe farmers are intelligent enough to understand the issues affecting their own livelihood. I am tired of being consulted but never heard.

I ask for the right to vote.Tom Rigby, Member number CF06L