Long time no speak.
First, you must forgive us for spending several of these columns since the election dissecting the Conservative Party’s policies. We hope you’ll understand – they are in government, after all.
Moreover, there’s been so much to discuss with relevance to the foodservice sector: the national living wage – still a sore point? – and cuts to tax credits will have a major impact on an industry in which a significant proportion of the workforce is paid the minimum wage. We won't even mention the reshuffle.
The Tories’ food and farming strategy – built on producing more, buying more and exporting more British food – is audacious and ambitious (and some might say a little parochial), while an environment strategy built on ... erm, we’ll get back to you on that one.
But what about you guys?
We notice you have embraced the “opposition” element of your role with vigour, although opposing your own leader doesn’t really count, does it?
There’s a government to be held to account and we’d all like to hear a bit more about your plans where our sector is concerned.
We have been casting our eyes over your economic policy (FYI – we’re reading from John McDonnell’s November 2015 Eco Pol (v18).doc). You want a higher-wage economy, but whereas the Conservatives will pay for it by cutting public spending and outsourcing Britain to the Chinese, you B will balance the books by raising taxes on corporations and high-wealth individuals, while investing in national infrastructure to stimulate demand. Which is fine – we’re not about taking sides.
And what about food? Before the election your shadow DEFRA team was confidently preparing for government by readying the relaunch of a national food strategy which revived your old Food 2030 plan in everything but name. Sorry that didn’t work out.
So what’s the new plan?
We note the appointment (and survival in her role post/during the reshuffle) of Kerry McCarthy as shadow environment secretary. Apparently she’s a vegan ... who knew? But rest assured that as a respectable magazine we won’t be tittering in the corner over her proclamations on farting cows like our friends at the Sun, as we know she was making a substantive point about the environmental impact of livestock production.
We also applaud her for not taking the Daily Mail’s bait after it reported she apparently believes in treating meat eaters like smokers, although she must have enjoyed the WHO’s recent classification of processed meat as carcinogenic to humans.
There’s also some extremely sensible, if not entirely original, ideas in her Food Waste (Reduction) Bill (voluntary agreements aren’t working and it’s certainly been too easy for supermarkets to push waste responsibility up or downstream). We only hope it doesn’t get buried like your landfill ban plan.
We would like – please – to see a few more concrete policies. As your esteemed leader, Jeremy Corbyn, knows only too well, often the characterisation of public figures is more important than the reality. As such we urge Ms McCarthy to outline a set of credible priorities and objectives as soon as possible or risk spending the remainder of the parliament being chased around Portcullis House Benny Hill-style by a Daily Mail reporter riding a cow while eating a bacon sandwich (what a mess that would be).
We note her passion for environmental sustainability and encourage her to persist with highlighting the link between food and the environment. Not least because the current government appears to view these as two entirely separate: its 25-year food and farming plan will be independent of its 25-year environment plan despite the former patently relying on the success of the latter.
The majority of food businesses are well aware of their reliance on natural capital – such as fertile soils and secure water supplies – to support their business models. By effectively decoupling the two, the Conservatives risk being out of kilter with all but the most short-termist organisations. You can borrow this line if you like.
I guess what we’re saying is that current government policy as it relates to our sector is game-changing and, whisper it quietly, actually quite radical. Regardless of whether you believe it’s right or wrong (and we’re guessing you believe it’s the latter) the country needs an effective opposition to scrutinise and challenge the ruling party. That means you, in case you were wondering.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
The Political Print - Footprint