I have spent a long time, as many others have done, puzzling over why Tony Blair did a U-turn on vaccination in April.Then I read the Guardian article by John Vidal and Peter Hetherington on Saturday September 8th, which stated that Blair gave in to pressure from Peter Blackburn, the president of the Food and Drink Federation, and the then chief excecutive of Nestle UK, and Lady Sylvia Jay (a former civil servant at the Department for International Development and the wife of the British ambassador in Paris, Sir Michael Jay). "Mr Blackburn wrote to Mr Blair spelling out strongly his belief that British manufactured food exports, worth up to £8bn a year, would be compromised and would lead to a permanent ban on UK meat and dairy products in many major non-EU markets." Blackburn was also concerned about the future of the Nestle factory at Dalston, Cummbria, which employs 500 people. This plant is Nestle's major producer of powdered milk with 75% of its output going to developing countries." The Guardian article then goes on to say that "faced with such strong opposition, the government plan was shelved and, according to one Whitehall source, the decision was made to blame the farmers for not accepting vaccination. 'The government knew that they would not easily win over the farmers, but they encountered far more opposition than they expected from the food industry, he said' ".
That to me seems a much more likely explanation for dropping vaccination than pressure from the NFU. If Tony Blair had really wanted to go ahead with vaccination, I feel that his spin machine would have had no trouble whatsoever in conjuring up answers to the NFU's 52 questions.
This weekend I then read a fascinating review by Anthony Howard of "The Ashdown Diaries: Volume Two" (Sunday Times, Section 9, Culture). Howard says, "for if one consistent thread emerges it is of the way in which Ashdown allowed himself constantly to be strung along by Tony Blair...Was the whole thing, then, merely a piece of cynical manipulation on Blair's part? That was my predominant suspicion before reading this book.... But Ashdown's account has now persuaded me otherwise. Blair emerges from these pages not as a ruthless operator but as a sentimental softie, the kind of person who invariably likes to agree with whomever he is talking to and who consequently runs the risk of resembling the 17th Earl of Derby (of whom it was immortally remarked that 'like the feather-pillow, he bears the marks of the last person to have sat upon him'). Only that, I now believe, offers an adequate explanation for the succession of promises that were made to Ashdown and then withdrawn - usually with some such plaintive excuse as, 'There are limits beyond which I cannot go at the moment' ".
The Independent on 9 September "Exposed: Blair's fatal dithering over foot and mouth vaccination" reveals how Blair "committed himself on three separate occasions this spring to vaccinating animals but caved in under pressure" (from NFU according to Independent). "These revelations - which may go some way to explaining Mr Blair's determination not to allow a public inquiry into the Government's handling of the epidemic - pose awkward questions over the decisiveness and consistency of his leadership, and his susceptibility to pressure from special interests."
Interesting! Best wishes, Anne L.
Extract from Christopher's email:
Some fascinating points have come to light. Firstly, it wasn't the NFU which was the chief villainback in March and April, it was our friend Anderson. He was pulling the strings for his own dark reasons, and Gill was just his little patsy. Secondly, the vaccination Blair was after was not the one Fred, Barteling and the rest of us were urging. It was simply a way to prevent burning cattle in Cumbria and Devon getting on the TV screens in the run-up to his beastly election. I did honestly think that he was touched by something wider at the time, and yet had somehow been outmanouvred. I'm afraid it was nothing like so honourable.