On Friday 7th. September 2007, Debbie Reynolds, Government Chief Vet asserted:

“I am satisfied that foot and mouth has been eradicated from the UK in 2007.”

How the mighty are fallen! This was a boast that has come spectacularly unstuck with an immediacy and a vengeance which promptly and quite reasonably provokes the question: was the lifting of all restrictions and the Chief Vet’s assertion negligently premature?

In his report to the Government on the matter of the F&M outbreak of August 2007, Professor Brian Spratt made this observation:

“Survival of FMDV in the environment will depend upon the nature of the material containing it; the initial concentration of virus in the material; the strain of virus; the humidity; the pH and the temperature, and will therefore be highly variable under field conditions. However some reported examples are: up to 20 weeks on hay or straw; up to 14 days in dry faeces; up to 39 days in urine; up to 6 months in slurry; up to 3days on soil in summer and 28 days on soil in autumn. Survival has been reported up to 50 days in water”.

Now I would be the first to admit that I am no mathematician, but even I can work out that we are still well within several of these periods and well within the survival period on hay or straw. Was it therefore wise to lift the restrictions before 20 weeks has elapsed? Notwithstanding the problems, might it not have been better, at least in Surrey and thereabouts, to have maintained some restrictions.

If the cynic-sceptic (and goodness knows, most of us are these days, now that we fully understand how Alistair Campbell, the most interesting Propaganda Minister since April 1945, has so debased the word of politicians) was looking for a reason why DEFRA may have prematurely ended the earlier restriction orders, some might be forgive for thinking that it lies in the wider world of politics.

There has been a lot of speculation, based on favourable opinion polls, that Brown might want to have an election this Autumn (which would probably have a maximum window of the end of October as the hours of daylight then become so much shorter which is thought to inhibit voting levels).

The Government’s angle appears to be (a) August outbreak not our fault but down to an arcane argument over land law as to whose responsibility the maintenance of drains @ Pirbright is and (b) unlike 2001, which was all that horrible man Blair’s fault, this time we have been absolutely brilliant and dynamic and by resolute, firm action, led by our Glorious and Great Leader, has put a rapid and complete end to this terrible scourge and we have saved the countryside (so vote for us!).

In addition, having these restriction may, as in 2001, give the dastardly opposition the chance to demand that no election be held because of the impact it might have on canvassing in rural areas (which would hit opposition parties a lot harder than it would hit Labour), thus dashing a really good, but utterly unfair chance to give them a right good thumping.

Although the possibility of an election has somewhat gone off the boil, a consummate operator like Brown would not want to be deprived of the opportunity of going for a GE, if, for example, Cameron really put his foot in it one day (which one fears is always a possibility). Thus he may have taken steps to keep his options open at the same time as burnishing his Halo.

The fact that this is one of the busiest times of the year for selling this years animals may have led to pressure also from other quarters, given that Labour still holds, albeit often tenuously, numerous rural and semi-rural seats which might well otherwise return to the Tory fold at a general election.

Gordon Brown and New Labour know nothing about nor care for the countryside and its economy. None of his ministers can point to any connection with the land and they do not understand it, viewing it merely as a sort of rather nice open-air museum in which to spend the weekend which is unfortunately (but not for long, if they get their way) populated by red-faced Poujadists who hunt cuddly innocent foxes. They are quite capable of lifting wise and necessary restrictions concerning F&MD for base short-term political gain. Still, if that is what they have done, the wheels have well and truly fallen off this time.

Pro Referendum Rally