Dave Lee Travis was my "lifeline" says, Aung San Suu Kyi

The former BBC radio DJ was a "lifeline" for the Burmese pro-democracy campaigner when she was under

The Burmese pro-democracy campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi spent the best part of two decades under house arrest. From 1989 until her full release in 2010, Suu Kyi was in and out of detention, spending years at a time locked up. How did she get through this? The knowledge that thousands of people across the world wished her well may have provided some solace. Suu Kyi also meditated every day, according to this New Statesman profile from 2010. The secret to her survival, however, emerged today in an interview with the Radio Times. This man was her "lifeline", who made her "world much more complete". Who was he?

Dave Lee Travis.

Yes, the beardy DJ who presented A Jolly Good Show on the BBC World Service from 1981 until 2001 played a surprising role in keeping Suu Kyi sane in her years of imprisonment. How did Lee Travis react to this news? Was he humbled by the knowledge that he played a small part in Suu Kyi's fight to bring democracy to Burma? Not really. In a blaze of modesty, Lee Travis said that he was "touched" but "not surprised" she remembered his show.

On a more serious note, it does emphasise the importance of the BBC World Service. As Suu Kyi points out, the World Service is the "only line to the outside world" for many. Admittedly, Suu Kyi was talking more about the World Service's news and culture coverage in general, rather than Dave Lee Travis's slot. Even so, perhaps with this revelation, the true role of BBC DJs as freedom fighters will emerge.

Presumably, when Ai Weiwei is eventually released in 20 years time, he will stumble into a press conference -- greyer, with a longer beard -- and begin: "There is one person that I could not have survived without in this bleak period. He was the light in my darkness; he brought dull chart music to my soul. For all that he has given me, I want to say thank you, Vernon Kay."

GETTY
Show Hide image

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.