Labour is a byword for duplicity and spin. When an election looms, it will bribe, bribe and bribe again. If cancelled, it welshes on the deal and seeks to avoid detection. Unfortunately they clean forgot that the Scottish Executive is no longer run by Labour and that Alex Salmond is not the Marquess of Queensberry.

We know this because Labour has finally met someone as crooked as themselves who is ruthless enough to play the spin game with the same ferocity that Alistair Campbell, the most interesting Propaganda Chief since April 1945, displayed and taught his acolytes to use.

Remembering (how can we forget?) that for the past two or three weeks, indeed for perhaps three months, Gordon Brown has been plotting an Autumn election, we must therefore look with interest at a communication made by DEFRA’s Mr. Hilary Benn to the Scottish Executive in the form of a draft of an statement due to made on Monday of this week, the statement being forwarded to Edinburgh last Friday, at which point Gordon Brown was summoning up the courage to run from the battlefield of an election:

“I have also agreed with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that Scotland should receive £8.1 million and Wales £6.5 million to assist them in countering the impacts of foot-and-mouth on their livestock farmers.”

Now when I was at the Bar, unless you covered such a statement with a qualification such as “subject to you agreeing not to press your other claims” or whatever, once you had indicated such an agreement you were both in honour and, probably, law by the statement.

When it comes to bribing the electorate, however, Labour feels utterly unconstrained by such things as ‘honour’ or law, or indeed by any sense of moral duty whatsoever. For when Mr. Benn came to The House of Commons, where he, having in 2003 been sworn of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, is entitled to be referred to as “The Right Honourable”, on Monday, by which time Gordon Brown had been spotted two hundred miles behind the lines and still running, all mention of the £8.1 million had been excised from the Statement, the Scottish Rural Electorate having, in the light of Brown’s seizure of the white feather, become surplus to Labour’s immediate requirements.

Benn evidently thought that this sleight of hand would go unremarked. He reckoned without the willingness of Alex Salmond to trash his reputation, for the First Minister has now spilt the beans so that we know of the detail of the original “agreement” and can thus see in the clear light of day the cynical calculation of Labour as it goes about the business of winning power.

Scottish farmers in general, and hill farmers in particular, have not been immune from the effects of the Foot & Mouth outbreak in the South of England (for which DEFRA is entirely responsible), nor from the knock-on effects of Bluetongue. Hill farmers cannot currently export their lambs which are apparently bred specifically for markets where they are roasted whole, something which does not happen much in the UK but which will be familiar to anyone who has traveled in the Balkans or Turkey, hence their being almost exclusively exported. They are in a particular bind for these animals cannot be kept on the hill because the grass is all used up and farmers cannot afford to bring them in and feed them for the cost of so doing is prohibitive and uneconomic.

All that is a matter of no consequence to vegetarian Mr. Benn who is a member of a government which neither understands nor has any sympathy for the rural economy, populated as it is by red-faced Mr. Jorrocks types who spend their leisure hours killing, as cruelly as possible, all manner of cuddly furry animals. What does matter, plainly, is making sure, at the right moment of course, that all the right bribes are in place.

The full story is here in The Scotsman.

It will be seen that Mr. Benn has furiously tried to suggest that this whole affair had nothing to do with electoral calculation. He can, of course, persist in that line for as long as he wants. The problem is that the electorate, north and south of the border, no longer bothers to give a nano-second of credence to such assertions, so utterly devoid of trust has the relationship between governed and governing become in this Realm.

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