Gloom as winter approaches

Malachy reflects on the speedy passing of summer and reveals how foot and mouth in Surrey has affect

The year is advancing with impetuous haste and a blatant disregard for those of us who are willing it to slow down.

Summer seems hardly to have begun and yet already the calendar shows August is largely gone. The hills are glowing purple with heather, the days are growing noticeably shorter, and the vegetables from the garden are now beginning to fill our plates.

The passing of time is something I have come to notice more since moving to Fair Isle. Each season has its jobs, each month its many tasks, and everywhere you look there are reminders of the year’s progress. Most of the silage fields are now cut and cleared of grass, with the last few soon to be done; and the lambs, now fat and heavy, are almost knocking their mothers over as they dive beneath them for milk. There is undoubtedly an autumnal feel to the days.

Traditionally, this was the beginning of the most important and joyous part of the crofting year. Crops would be harvested, vegetables gathered and animals killed, all ready for the coming winter. All the year’s work leads towards this climax.

Somehow though there is sadness too with the approach of autumn, and the knowledge of winter just around the corner. Summers here can be so short, and the dark, cold months seem unbearably long when viewed from ahead.

In part this may be because autumn no longer means as much as it once did; it is no longer vital to survival in the way it once was. Few crops are now grown here, and though many people do grow vegetables, their success is not crucial. Everything you need can be bought in the shop, so the pressure to succeed is not so great, and the joy and relief in doing so is likewise lessened.

Or perhaps it is just me, blinded by post-holiday gloom. Perhaps things will seem brighter again in a day or two. Once the rain stops.

There is a gloomy uncertainty though amongst crofters and farmers this year for another reason. The situation regarding livestock movements, following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Surrey, is a potentially critical one for anyone involved in agriculture.

Although Shetland, along with the other Scottish islands, was given early exemption from the ban on moving livestock (though this came too late for the main agricultural shows, which were forced to go ahead without animals) export of lamb and cattle is still prohibited.

This is of particular worry right now to Fair Isle crofters. Because shipping lambs from the island to mainland Shetland requires calm weather, ours are always among the first to be sold, after which they are usually shipped to Scotland to be fattened up before slaughter. If the export ban is still in place in a few weeks’ time, when our lambs should be going out to the market, it could potentially prove very difficult to get rid of them. No one is entirely sure what the solution will be, but even if the ban is lifted (which fortunately seems increasingly likely as each day passes) it is almost certain that the foot and mouth outbreak will push down the price of lamb once again this year. Given how little crofters earn from lamb already, this is exactly what they do not need.

The obsession in this country with making food as cheap as possible has been entirely at the expense of the independent food producers. Most people have no concept of the hard work that goes into rearing the meat that they eat. A situation like this can only serve to make things even harder.

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.