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6 March 2024

Letter of the week: Reframing farming

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

I was shocked by Will Lloyd’s sneering dismissal of plans to subsidise environmental enhancement on Welsh farmland (Decline and Fall, 1 March). He talks, quite properly, of the needs of “workers and their families”. But the climate emergency has urgent needs too, as do the ecosystems and species across the UK trashed by intensive farming over the past half-century – hardly catastrophes defined by what he calls “abstract dogma”.       Most depressing is his statement that Welsh farmers are being “told to stop farming one fifth of the land they own”. Putting aside the fact that the scheme will be voluntary and that 7 per cent of Welsh farmland is already under trees, what an antediluvian view of farming! Across Europe farmers are beginning to show that food production and conservation are compatible. Can’t we, in the throes of environmental crisis, move to a definition of farming that includes the nourishing of the ecological networks on which all life depends?
Richard Mabey, Norfolk

This is the end

On the common theme across your Leader and Andrew Marr’s column (Politics, both 1 March), there is nothing new in Liz Truss’s statements at the CPAC in Maryland. At every opportunity she blames everyone else for her calamitous 49 days in No 10. Her failure to challenge Steve Bannon’s statement is also unsurprising. I can’t believe she agrees with him, but one of her most apparent weaknesses is her inability to think and respond quickly when challenged.

It is likely that after humiliation at the general election we will see the end of the Tory party as we know it. Those on the hard right of the party will join with Reform. The equivalent of Labour’s humiliating experience in Scotland in 2015 is not out of  the question. The result will be less focus on common ground and more on division – the very last thing we need.
Andy Leslie, West Grinstead, West Sussex

Feeling QEasy

I want to thank Will Dunn for his analysis of the impact of QE (Cover Story, 1 March). It felt especially exciting to read an article that fulfilled its implied promise to change the way I see the world. On reflection it occurs to me that the Tory policy of austerity has perhaps served the interests of the rich by helping perpetuate financial conditions justifying the continuation of QE, from which they have benefited so much.
Alan Eaton, Bradford

A rare Welsh bit

I’m used to Wales being largely ignored in the UK media, and so turned to Will Lloyd’s Mark Drakeford article (Decline and Fall, 1 March) with interest. I was disappointed. Like those of right-wing trolls who decry “Dripford” (ho ho) for being ineffectual yet simultaneously the scourge of their lives, Lloyd’s attacks are lazy and inconsistent. He mocks Drakeford for self-isolating during the pandemic when his main concern was for his late wife and mother, both of whom had long-term health conditions. As for the main subject of the article – criticism of the Sustainable Farming Scheme, which is still in the consultation stage, with the Welsh Farmers’ Union represented – it was so one-sided that I wonder if he’d just jotted down some notes from a phone call with an angry farmer. Maybe it would be better to go back to ignoring Wales.
Chris Walker, Cardiff

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Only a climate change sceptic would put the climate crisis in inverted commas. This sideswipe at environmentalism formed a large part of Will Lloyd’s odd lambasting of Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister.

The crisis is real, and farmers, like the rest of us, have to cut carbon emissions and help restore nature, otherwise we are doomed. A recent report gave agriculture a whopping 24 per cent contribution to total world carbon emissions. The Welsh hill farmer is probably contributing less to the problem, but is responsible for denaturing upland environment by over-grazing, releasing carbon by ploughing, and polluting streams with added nitrates and phosphates.

There are exciting agricultural reforms planned in England under the Sustainable Farming Incentive. The pilots run by Defra in England from 2021 to 2022, in which more than 2,000 farms participated, have led to a fair, flexible and more generous payment system to farmers to restore landscapes. Farmers in England broadly welcome this. The Welsh government could copy this model, adding to its commitment already made to tackling the climate crisis in Wales.
Melanie Oxley, Petersfield, Hampshire

Bottoms up

I really enjoyed Laura Spinney’s review of Eric Klinenberg’s 2020: A Global Reckoning (The Critics, 1 March). I particularly liked her observation that we “really need… studies like this one from all over the world”. I could not agree more. As a sociology teacher of 23 years, it’s my belief that “bottom-up” studies such as Klinenberg’s and the work of Max Weber help us to understand the world.

At Bretton Hall College in Leeds in 1992 my sociology tutors recommended the New Statesman, and I’m glad they did.
Mark McKay, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Hasty declassification

As Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s review of Josephine Quinn’s How the World Made the West (The Critics, 1 March) shows, it is now fashionable for classicists to dynamite their discipline. They want to widen “classical” studies to include other cultures – but this is not the only story. Margaret Atwood, Pat Barker and Natalie Haynes have all reimagined Greek myths as powerful feminist polemics. Their brilliant rethinking only works because classical culture remains central to our understanding of ourselves.
Robert Dear, London N14

Fellows’ feelings

As a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (RSL), I wish could share Lisa Appignanesi’s belief that the society is mending its ways (newstatesman.com, 27 February). The statement from the RSL council suggests the opposite: it has examined itself and found it has done nothing wrong, despite evidence to the contrary. An ingenious touch is the claim that it has been bullied by its critics rather than vice versa.

At the core of the dispute is the accusation, made by the society’s former director Maggie Fergusson, that an attempt was made to remove pro-Palestinian remarks from an article in the RSL Review. Anyone who worked with Fergusson at the RSL knows her to be the soul of honesty. By accusing her of lying, the council has shown itself to be thoroughly unprincipled and has aroused the indignation of the majority of fellows.
Anthony Gardner, London NW10

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[See also: Letter of the week: Independent perspective]

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This article appears in the 06 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Bust Britain

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