Dramatis Personae

 

What is the final verdict on the main players in the crisis?

 

Nick Brown, Britain's last Minister of Agriculture. Weak, lacking any sympathy for agriculture, totally out of his depth in the early days of the crisis, completely sidelined after March 22 by the King-Anderson coup d'etat. His last significant contribution to the drama was pulling the rug from under Blair's limited vaccination plan on April 23, for which he was humiliated after the election by demotion to the junior post of Minister for Work.

 

Jim Scudamore, the government's Chief Vet. Apparatchik, also out of his depth as he tried to operate new EU system for tackling FMD epidemics. His main role was trotting over to Brussels to report to his fellow members of the EU's Standing Veterinary Committee and to bring back instructions for his boss. Like Brown, effectively sidelined when King and Anderson took over direction of policy in March.

 

Professor David King, Chief Scientist. Intelligent, but as a chemist also out of his depth with the science of an animal disease. He was right in seeing that MAFF was making a complete shambles of running the crisis, and that something dramatic needed to be done. His mistake was to gamble on putting all his faith in Anderson's computer model and not seeking advice from genuine experts on FMD. Although publicly he continued to back mass-slaughter and oppose vaccination, private clues indicated he was too bright not to have realised by September that he might have made a terrible mistake.

 

Professor Roy Anderson, highly ambitious computer modeller who saw in foot-and-mouth a chance to rebuild his career. A persuasive politician, he benefited from his friendship with Sir John Krebs in being able to sell his FMD 'model' to such effect that, within a month of the start of the crisis, he had in effect become the government's chief mastermind. As leading proponent of the 'contiguous cull' policy, his reputation would ultimately stand or fall on whether it was successful. But at what cost?

 

Ben Gill, president of the NFU. Presented as 'leader' of Britain's farmers, like any president of the NFU (which only represents 30 percent of farmers), he was in effect a spokesman for agri-business and established orthodoxies, most notably a visceral prejudice against vaccination. Although in April he was presented as the most significant opponent of any vaccination policy, he was by now acting as a well-briefed front man for Anderson's mass-slaughter/anti-vaccination ideology. When the crisis was at its height, clearly under intense strain, admitting that at key moments he had burst into tears.

 

Tony Blair. The foot-and-mouth crisis gave a very accurate picture of Blair's character as prime minister. Weak, indecisive, primarily concerned with 'image', but sensitive enough to pick up the political and emotional advantages of switching to a vaccination strategy. Having welcomed King's wish to take charge and promote Anderson to a central role, Blair was still open to stepping outside the official orthodoxy to want private briefings on the case for vaccination. But, despite being emotionally convinced, he did not have the intelligence or strength of character to follow through. Having first fallen back on his limited vaccination plan, as a political expedient, he was outmaneouvred. From then on, all he had left was resort to the spin doctors and wishful thinking that things would somehow work out.

 

Tim Yeo, Conservative front-bench spokesman on agriculture. Although the government's breathtaking incompetence at every stage of the crisis should have provided the Tories with a series of wide open goals, it would be hard to justify Yeo's inclusion among leading players in the crisis. The main role of Her Majesty's Opposition throughout was to claim that whatever the government was doing was right, except that they should have done it earlier when the Tories first suggested it. Yeo was noticeably careful not to raise the crucial role played by Brussels and EU legislation; and on vaccination more or less echoed the line of the NFU.