Private Eye April 30 Even newer MuckspreaderAnyone hoping the Beloved Leader's refusal to allow a proper inquiry into his mishandling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic would be made up for by the inquiry staged by the European Parliament is likely to be sadly disappointed.
The MEPs' efforts are turning out to be no more than a sick joke. Part of the problem is Senora Redondo, their dumpy, bad-tempered little Spanish chairperson, who began her career as a civil servant for Franco's fascist government. La Redondo is particularly fond of the sound of her own voice, which causes problems since she only speaks Spanish, meaning that when the MEPs recently visited Britain for a series of hearings her lengthy rants had to be followed by hours of droning translation.
Another drawback is that few MEPs have done much homework, so have little idea what it is they are meant to be looking into. Their main concern is to play politics by chipping in with statements designed to catch media attention back home. The committee's British vice-chair, Green MEP Caroline Lucas, is particularly keen on this game.
But the greatest drawback is the investigation's complete lack of structure. A succession of witnesses like Nick Brown or Lord Whitty turn up to read out prepared statements. MEPs' questions are then lumped together in batches, giving all the witnesses a chance to comment on whichever bits of the questioning take their fancy.
As an ex-civil servant La Redondo is notably deferential to 'official' witnesses, like Brown and Whitty, who are allowed to drool on way over their allotted time and to get away with absurd claims without being challenged. But when it comes to witnesses who challenge the government line, Redondo can barely bring herself to be polite. Having been summoned to Brussels, vaccination expert Dr Keith Sumption was allowed barely five minutes, Almost all the documents circulated by the inquiry secretariat are from official sources. Unofficial papers, however expert and relevant to proper understanding of the crisis, are ignored. And when researchers asked for tapes or transcripts of the evidence, to check what witnesses had said, they were told these were being kept under lock and key. Tapes can only be listened to under supervision. Otherwise MEPs must make do with a summary containing only what seems relevant to the inquiry's German rapporteur.
All this was exemplified when the MEPs were bussed up to Gretna for what has so far been their only public hearing in the UK. Most of the hall was taken up by MEPs and officials. Farmers, vets and members of the public had to squeeze down the sides. Scheduled for two hours, the meeting began with an hour and forty minutes of self-serving statements from Scottish politicians, NFU officials and other government apologists.
Critical witnesses, including two outspoken senior vets Roger Windsor and Alan Richardson were allowed just a few minutes at the end. At least when Redondo tried to cut short Nick Green of Heart of Cumbria he managed to wave her impatient interjections aside until he had finished. Astonishingly this farce is billed to last a whole year, during which the inquiry is holding nine hearings of three hours each, making only 27 hours of chaotic hearings in all. This compares with the inquiry by Northumberland county council, which crammed in 30 hours of hearings in just five days, eliciting more information than the MEPs will manage to dig out in an inquiry taking 50 times as long, at well over ten times the expense.