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November 4, 2001
Sunday Times (London)
Jonathan Miller

The idiot National Farmers' Union endorses the government's proposed Animal Health Act amendments that will give ministry agents the power to destroy cows, sheep, pigs, alpacas, cats, dogs, horses, hamsters and goldfish without judicial review.

This vindictive legislation, to put beyond challenge the power of the government to kill anyone's animal, has been rushed into parliament without waiting for reports from any of the three foot-and-mouth inquiries established by the government.

Ministers now allege, with the NFU, that animal owners who resisted the cull helped spread the disease. Where is the evidence? There is plenty of evidence that the bio-sanitary practices of the government's own agents spread the disease - but not that it was spread by people trying to protect their healthy animals from the ministry of death. If the government is seeking ex post facto to legalise its contiguous cull policy, it can only be to make the next big cull a lot easier -without citizens seeking redress at law.

The NFU, which is as close to the new Defra as it was to the old Maff, is not the only organisation to have emerged disgraced by foot and mouth. Vets cravenly presided, as ministry slaughtermen, accompanied by soldiers and armed police, took out pet goats. As government agents on quad bikes chased cows, the hypocritical RSPCA campaigned to ban hunting. I will never give them another penny.

The police ought to protect our freedoms. Instead, the senior cadre sent officers to superintend gross violations of human and animal rights. The army did its best to ameliorate the distress by organising matters more efficiently.

Yet Devon council's inquiry found the sum of it all to be "lamentable" - a situation recognised by some of us in April. Is the army the only institution we can trust? It's not just Afghanistan that needs a nation-building programme in which basic democratic institutions are introduced, to replace the corrupt horrors of the established regime. Perhaps we ought to have a coup here.

The Tories were hopeless. The Countryside Alliance was pliant. The media were for the most part incapable of understanding the science.

Nick Brown, currently invisible as government minister for work, has questions to answer. Why did he tell parliament that vaccination would "permanently compromise" Britain's meat export status? Holland vaccinated, controlled the disease (chose to slaughter afterwards but didn't have to) and has already regained its export status.

Civil service heads should roll starting with Jim Scudamore, still chief vet. The people who managed the catastrophe are still in place. Defra statistics on the epidemic are a lie and its stupendous incompetence has cost the rural and tourist economies billions. Watercourses are polluted, civil rights have been trampled, and the air filled with the stench of burning animals and railway sleepers (full of dioxins and PCBs).

Tony Blair took personal responsibility for foot and mouth when it became clear that Maff/Defra was stuffed with cock-up artists, poltroons, serial liars and sadists and he famously saved a Charollais calf named Phoenix. Spin done, he has not stuck around.

But this is about more than Blair and a dreadful civil service. It is entirely consistent with the invisible government of an arrogant, unaccountable and secretive civil service that is institutionally lunatic.

How long are we going to put up with ministers and civil servants making a mess of everything they do? They cannot be trusted to run a chip stand. They preside over hospitals, schools, roads and trains that are unfixable national embarrassments.

Given the regime's hapless performance when some cows caught a cold, are we seriously to believe this is a government and civil service prepared to cope with a chemical or biological attack on our homeland?

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