The Miller’s Tale – Episode 2

The Swinging Sixties and Beyond

 It is easy to forget how much things have changed since the Sixties. There was no internet. So unless you subscribed to specialist publications or were in a political party or special interest or trade group, your information was limited to what the main newspapers or the BBC and ITV told you. With regard to the European project, the most crucial of the government’s information and intentions were concealed from the public for thirty years by the Official Secrets Act. I will give an account of things as I remember them but will use italic type like this to insert information which was not available until later and also give links to later articles which give a fuller explanation, not available to me at the time.

Whilst the countryside looks picturesque and much of it appears unchanged, that is very deceptive. Farming has been one of the most rapidly modernising industries of all. Whilst there were still  small farms in the Sixties which  used horses for some of the work, mechanisation went on at a great pace and the number of people required to work the land declined steeply as machines got bigger and better.

I called on such a  farm in the mid Sixties and the farmer was in his fields. I had to wait for him to finish his job because he was sowing seed by hand and had to count the paces and keep the rhythm as he broadcast handfuls of seed from the bag round his waist – just as in the bible story “a sower went forth sowing.” That was the last time I saw it done.  His descendants now drive machines which are positioned by satellite and controlled by computers.

Most farms were going for bigger and better tractors and machinery – seed drills, fertiliser spreaders, sprayers, ploughs, combine harvesters, forage harvesters and so on. Cows were being moved out of cow sheds and into covered yards where they could self-feed on silage when not grazing.  Milking parlours replaced the cow shed stalls. Bulk milk tanks replaced the man-handled milk churns.

Britain had a unique agricultural policy. Food from abroad was allowed in freely without customs duties and farmers received subsidies to keep up home production and guarantee food security.  To the benefit of the less well-off, the tax payer, not the consumer,  funded the system. Food was a much bigger proportion of household expense in those days and cheap food also reduced pressure on wages.

Farm land would not be allowed to go derelict, as it had done in the depression between the wars. This system was negotiated annually in the Farm Price Review under parliamentary scrutiny. As the memory of food shortages and rationing faded, politicians naturally scrutinised this expense very carefully. World food prices fell from the late Fifties onwards and this tended to drive up the required subsidies which were gradually restricted. So farming was not  as profitable as the increases in production might suggest. (See attachment for fuller description).

Attitudes changed in the Sixties. Early on, the satirical TV programme “That Was The Week That Was” mercilessly lampooned the failings of our political class. In  doing so it reduced people’s confidence in the institutions of government. It was part of the process of rubbishing the hitherto undisputed comfortable feeling that “British is best”.  No fearless investigator or satirist looked into government deceit about the European project. Our European neighbours were doing better than us economically. Documentary programmes drove  this message home relentlessly.

Things were not helped by the fact that our key industries frequently went on strike. We did not know it at the time but the Prime Minister Harold MacMillan (from 1957 to 1963) expressed the view that our country was “ungovernable”.  He thought that the trade unions would come to their senses if British industry was opened to unrestricted competition from Europe. The unions were so powerful that he dared not alter the laws which gave them almost total immunity from normal legal redress..

At this time, we were installing some new machinery. The engineer, who was supervising the job,  picked up a spanner and started to make an adjustment. He put it down very quickly, looking around with a worried expression. “Is this a union shop?” he asked. Fortunately we weren’t. In some factories,  only  members of the right union were allowed to do certain tasks. Shipyards, already months or even years behind with deliveries, were brought to a halt. Drilling a hole which went through a piece of metal and a piece of wood could cause a strike whilst the shop stewards argued whether a woodworker or metal worker should have done the job. Then they would want overtime to make up for lost time. That was the way things were then. Britain’s industries were rightly losing the confidence of their overseas customers. The Germans, French, Japanese and others would willingly replace them and make deliveries to quality and to time.

The Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson (1964-1970) wanted to modernise British industry. His catch phrase was “the white heat of the technological revolution” but he couldn’t tackle the unions either. As well as being over-mighty, they were the Labour party’s paymasters. He did stand up to a Seamen’s strike in 1966. He believed that communists were using the strike to take over the union.

He brought in emergency powers and the strikers backed down but not before goods piled up on quaysides and most of the Cunard fleet was out of action. The crew of the Queen Mary stopped work at Southampton. The left wing of Labour supported the union.

By luck rather than by good judgement I did rather well out of this. I had bought a large contract of groundnut cake and two months’ shipments arrived together just before the strike. So we were sitting pretty. But I still got a row from my father because we had to hire outside warehouse space.

There were two other disruptive features of trade union conduct in those days – the “sympathy strike” and “blacking”. Trade unionists with no grievance against their own employer would strike “in sympathy” with workers involved in another dispute. “Blacking” was the practice of blacklisting lorries from a firm involved in strike action so that trade unionists in other factories would refuse to load or unload them. Dubious tactics could also be used in disputes between trade unions.

I have a copy of the Sunday Mirror of July 20th 1969. The front page stories are of the first moon landing, the death of Ted Kennedy’s girlfriend in a car which ended underwater and a surprise appearance by the Duke of Edinburgh at a registry office wedding in Cardiff. But inside is a tale of thuggishness between trade unions which I quote here. The TUC was called in as umpire in a dispute between the United Road Transport Union and the much larger Transport & General Transport Workers’ Union, who were in competition for recruits.  Their Midlands Organiser, Alan Law, had been accused in Parliament of blackmail and extortion. A firm called Stephenson Clark had paid £5,000 into the TGWU convalescent homes fund following negotiations about dismissed drivers. Mr Law intended to share the £5,000 with £400 each to seven drivers and £1,100 each to two shop stewards. I knew several firms which were shaken down by Law. Businesses in the Midlands dreaded the attentions of this man and spoke of “The Rule of Law” which bordered on gangsterism, using the immunities from normal legal redress which the unions continued to enjoy until the days of Margaret Thatcher.

One thing strikes me about the Sunday Mirror of those days. It was very much better written than any tabloid today. A full page article by Roy Jenkins, Chancellor of the Exchequer sang the praises of what her termed “the civilised society” and the beginnings of our present obsession with homosexuality and transgender matters. He was a leading light amongst the group of  Labour MPs, working behind the scenes to defy their own party policy and get us into the European Economic Community.

In this, he was at one with the up and coming Conservative, John Selwyn Gummer, now Lord Deben. He and Jenkins both peddled the lie that the Commonwealth countries, grown up and independent, wanted nothing more to do with us – so we must look to Europe.  Gummer came to our Corn Trade Association Conference at Buxton to tell us that. I knew it was a lie because our New Zealand friends supplied us with thousands of tons of milk powder and were not at all pleased to be losing one of their best customers. So, I decided that a project which required a lie to promote it must be concealing more and greater evils. The Canadians who supplied excellent quality wheat for flour milling got the same treatment.

In late 1971 I became a member of a MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food) Committee, concerned with bringing in the European Common Agricultural Policy. The others on the committee were a good twenty years older than I . When they heard the details of the policy which I had heard in Holland ten years before (see Episode 1), they were so outraged that they wanted to walk out. We had not yet met Sir Humphrey Appleby of “Yes Minister” but a senior civil servant who greatly resembled him smoothed them down expertly.

“Well gentlemen” he said “We were not founder members of the community, so these arrangements are not what we would have wished. But just give it a few years of British common sense and we’ll soon get it licked into shape”.  Tea and biscuits appeared instantly. With hindsight, I guessed that the lady with the trolley was waiting for her cue. “And now gentlemen, the political decision having been made, we want to help you get the very best out of this”.  It was a deceit expertly done but, to give the civil servants their due, they certainly gave us the help we needed to make our living in this strange new world. We had to make radical alterations to the way we ran our business. In the highly regulated Common Agricultural Policy our profitability would depend on being able to claim EEC subsidy for “denaturing” wheat and milk powder – that is, rendering them unfit for human consumption by blending them into animal feed. We needed new record systems, new laboratory equipment and parts of our production lines had to be redesigned. By Autumn or early winter of 1972, we were ready to be up and running with the new system. So everything worked perfectly when we “went into Europe” in January 1973 . The only things we were not prepared for was the new breed of inspector and Harold Wilson’s 1975 “Renegotiation” – of which more anon.

 

The miller’s tale – a series of reminiscences

EPISODE 1 – Early intimations.

“Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the growing boy” – Ode on intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood by William Wordsworth.

We moved into the countryside from the house next to the mill in 1950 and our old home became offices and a laboratory for our family business.. Going into the business made my later close acquaintance with the European project inevitable.

That was all in the far, unsuspected future when I went on a school visit to Germany in 1958. The German boy I stayed with asked me “Have you heard about our Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft? It will guarantee our living standard”. Neither his English nor my German was up to translating the word. So an answer had to wait until we got home. As soon as I asked our teacher, several other boys said

“My chap said exactly the same thing”. So it was obviously something they had been taught in school.

Our teacher, Mr Rhodes, explained that the word meant “Economic Community” and it had been started by a new treaty the previous year between France, Italy, Germany and the Benelux countries.

We discussed it for a while and thought it was a very good idea that these continental countries were co-operating with each other. “But remember,” said Mr. Rhodes, “This shows a difference in tradition between our countries. You would not be taught a political opinion like that as a fact in a British school.” How times have changed since!

This was the first time I remember people talking about what was called “The Common Market” and, whilst we wished the neighbouring countries well, I don’t recall many people being keen on the idea of our joining it ourselves. Matron was an exception but she was a Liberal – then a very small parliamentary party. One prominent member was a Lady Violet Bonham Carter who was so extremely enthusiastic that a radio comedian dubbed her “Lady Violent Common Barter” !

Interest moved up a notch around 1960. By then I was a pupil in a firm of corn merchants at Banbury, called Lamprey & Son Ltd. Their office was next to the town hall and had a high sloping desk with stools – no lounging in executive chairs! The accounts were still kept in hand-written ledgers upstairs. On my arrival, the manager, an austere man, passed me a weighbridge ticket – 5 tons 2 hundredweights three quarters and one stone. “There you are boy. Twenty five pounds twelve shillings and six pence per ton. What does it come to?” When I asked for a piece of paper to do the calculation “Lord love you, lad. What have they been teaching you all these years?”

Farmers came into the office on market days to order what they needed, to pay their bills and to be paid for grain which we had bought from them. It was a busy cheerful place and I clearly remember one nice old boy, a smallholder who had lost a leg in the First World War, asking the manager. “Well, Mr Humphries, be you goin’ to join this ‘ere common market?”. It didn’t rank very high in our concerns amongst the general bustle of a busy office. I did many jobs in that firm from bagging coal to really responsible tasks. Our boss, Roger Bradshaw, was only about ten years older than I. His father had died quite recently. So it was very different from working for my father. He would give a task, such as taking over the running of the retail shop without any detailed instructions and his favourite exhortation was “It won’t take you five minutes to get hold of it”.

Sometimes it took me much longer but I was allowed to make mistakes as long as I owned up. His son phoned me a few days ago to say he had been asking after me and this put me in mind to write these reminiscences.

After two happy years I went back home. Our most profitable product was a milk powder food for baby calves which my father had developed. He knew that technical advances were taking place in Holland and we eventually came to an arrangement with a large Dutch firm to use their formulations and made several visits to their mill to effect the technology transfer.

It was on one of these visits in 1962 or 1963 that I first came across the European Common Agricultural Policy. I was watching wheat come down a conveyor and suddenly saw purple grains. Now the only reason I knew for purple grains was ergot – a very nasty fungus which causes abortion in cattle amongst other things and there seemed to be an awful lot of it. The director who was looking after me said he would explain it all that evening. I learned that the grain had been dyed because it had been subsidised for use in animal feed. The dye ensured that the wheat could not be diverted back into human food. He explained the whole complicated system which also subsidised the use of milk powder in calf food.

I had never come across anything quite so odd in my life. We then had free trade in food and feed at home. How on earth could a common sense people like the Dutch have come to use such a complicated (and frankly barmy) system? “Little Holland is neighbour of big Germany,” my host said “and the Germans wanted it”. It was then that I remembered that he was very senior and I was very junior and a guest in his house. So I thought I had probably spoken out of turn.. His speech was quite matter-of-fact, as if describing the weather. I also knew that he had flown with the RAF during the war. So I shut up but remembered.

It would be ten years before we entered this system. In the meantime, many people were quite well-disposed to the idea of joining the “Common Market”. Mainland Europe was doing much better than us economically. We always seemed to be strikebound in major industries and things were rather shabby here in comparison to their rapid progress. There were also people I respected greatly, who had done great things in the war. “This will be marvellous for you and your generation Edward. It means you will never have to suffer the sort of things we did.” You had to take notice of people like that. But nobody could explain to me why they had such a crazy agricultural policy.

Brexit means…..?

We now have less than three months to wait until Mrs May will invoke Article 50 and we formally begin the process of leaving the EU.  This means we will finally see her “Brexit means Brexit ” statement fleshed out, although it is doubtful if we will know all the detail by the end of March, especially as there are likely to be a good few twists and turns between the invocation of Article 50 and Independence Day.

During 2017 the Campaign for an Independent Britain will continue to fight for the best possible Brexit deal, working alongside other like-minded individuals and organisations. We will let you more as our plans develop, but here are a few guidelines which we believe will help ensure Brexit is successful.

Firstly, Brexit DOES NOT mean a trade-off between single market access and free movement of people from the EU. If the Government is considering remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) – possibly by re-joining EFTA, the European Free Trade Area – as an interim position, the “four freedoms” of the Single Market are not indivisible for a non-EU country, in spite of claims to the contrary by the likes of Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister.

Iceland suspended free movement of capital following its banking crisis and, as has been pointed out on this website and elsewhere, Liechtenstein imposed restrictions on free movement of people over 20 years ago. Readers may remember that David Cameron’s “deal”  included a so-called “emergency brake”  – an agreement with the other 27 member states that if we voted to remain in the EU, we could restrict the in-work benefits paid to migrants for four years.

All Mr Cameron was doing was asking permission to apply Article 112 of the EEA agreement. Outside the EU, if we took the EFTA route, we wouldn’t have to ask the 27 member states and could impose far tougher restrictions than merely restricting benefits. Like Liechtenstein, we could drastically limit the numbers too. Liechtenstein has done nothing more than making use of an article in an existing agreement. We could do the same if the government chooses to go down the EFTA route.

Of course, we do not know if this is Mrs May’s plan, but it is inconceivable, given the number of on-line articles and research papers which have addressed this subject, that she and her advisers are not aware of Article 112 and Liechtenstein’s use of it. It is high time that the canard of the indivisibility of the “four freedoms” was laid to rest once and for all.

So what else does Brexit mean?

Firstly, freedom from the European Court of Justice. UK law and its courts must be the final arbiter of British justice.  We should pull out of participation in the European Arrest Warrant, which has resulted in UK residents being sent for trial abroad on hearsay evidence.  Furthermore, Brexit must lead to the return of trial by jury and other features of our historic legal system which have gradually been eroded by our membership of the EU.

Next, Freedom from any involvement with the European Defence Agency and an independent foreign policy. We should obviously work together with the EU where it is mutually beneficial so to do, but we should  not be involved with the EU’s empire building in the Balkans or former soviet republics such as the Ukraine.

Brexit must mean an end to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). As John Ashworth has argued, the concept of “Community waters”, the quota system, and the ridiculous amount of fish caught by boats from other EU member states in what are our national waters by right is a disgrace that has cost thousands of jobs in the fishing industry. The opportunity to revive our coastal communities through a well-designed fishing policy on similar lines to the Faroese scheme must not be passed over.

A replacement to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must also be designed. Unlike the CFP, which hardly benefits any UK fishermen at all (apart from those who have bought quota and then re-sell for profit), the CAP’s single farm payment is a lifeline for many in the agricultural sector. As an interim measure, a single payment system managed in Westminster rather than Brussels may be the answer, but looking further ahead, something more imaginative is essential as the CAP, initially designed to support small French farmers, has never been a good way to manage farming in the UK.

Finally, Brexit means not only taking the UK out of the EU but taking the EU out of the hearts of UK citizens. Schoolchildren and students have suffered years of indoctrination through pro-EU propaganda.  They will be the biggest beneficiaries of Brexit, but as anyone who has taken part in debates on the EU in schools and universities has discovered,  most of them don’t realise it at the moment.

So there will be much to keep us in the Campaign for an Independent Britain busy as 2017 approaches. On that note, may we wish all our members and supporters a Happy New Year.

 

The EU’s farmers are the victims of EU expansionism

Would you like to live in Vladimir Putin’s Russia? Probably not. It’s less oppressive than the Soviet Union used to be but it’s hardly a bastion of freedom compared with the UK. Mr Putin isn’t a particularly pleasant man; suspicions persist regarding his involvement in the assassination of the Russian security officer Alexander Litvineneko in London and a number of his opponents within Russia itself have died in mysterious circumstances.

So the idea that the good folk of Ukraine of their own free will want to keep as much distance as possible from this nasty man and align themselves, like the former Warsaw Pact nations, to those bastions of liberty in Western Europe is at first glance a pretty convincing narrative. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny.

For one thing, a substantial minority of the Ukrainian population would actually prefer the embrace of Mr Putin. There can be no doubt that Russia was heavily involved in Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and its military is working closely with the Russian-speaking groups in the Donbass region, but there is equally no doubt that in these two areas, the majority of the inhabitants feel far more affinity with Moscow than with Kiev, let alone with Paris or Berlin. The vote to re-join Russia in the Crimea was not rigged by the Kremlin and the Russian troops in the east are viewed more as brothers-in-arms than foreign invaders.

Secondly, the EU has gone to great lengths to cultivate Ukrainian support for membership of the Community. Financial aid amounting to over €2 billion has been provided in the last two years alone to prop up the country’s failing economy. Ukraine certainly needs help; the annual inflation rate has consistently topped 50% in the last five months, interest rates stand at 27%, the money supply is shrinking and GDP fell by 17.6% in the first quarter of 2015. Furthermore, the country is rated as the most corrupt in Europe and life expectancy for men is lower now than in 1964. In short, the country is in a terrible mess, so why are we investing so much in it? Altruism? Sadly not. Ukraine is in the forefront of the EU’s desire to expand its sphere of influence and in the process to rub President Putin’s nose in the dirt. There is strong evidence of EU involvement in the coup which ousted former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.

There is a distinct lack of logic here. Why is Ukraine being cultivated as a potential EU member whereas Russia is being excluded? Historically, the two nations have been close – indeed, Kiev was the capital of a state regarded by Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians alike as the place from whence their civilisations sprang. It was in Kiev in 988 that Prince Vladimir the Great converted to Orthodox Christianity. The EU has already allowed Greece and Bulgaria, historically Eastern Orthodox, to join the club. If Ukraine is welcome too, why not its Orthodox northern neighbour?

Indeed, the only real justification for our supporting Ukraine is that under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum the UK and US are guarantors (morally, if not legally) of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Our task has not been helped, however, by either the EU’s territorial expansionism or its cold-shouldering of Russia. The deterioration in relationships between the EU and Russia cannot be blamed entirely on its president. It was the EU which backed away from closer trading links a few years back. Basically, the powers-that-be in Brussels just do not want a good relationship with Moscow.

And who is paying the price for their pig-headedness? Not just the people of Ukraine caught up in a war which has largely disappeared from the headlines; Europe’s dairy farmers are suffering as one of their biggest export markets has been closed. When the EU imposed sanctions on Russia, the Kremlin replied by banning imports of dairy products. Russia was one of the EU’s biggest markets for dairy products, accounting for 32 per cent of cheese exports and 24 per cent of butter exports. The net result is that European wholesale milk prices have fallen by 20% and no less than £365 million emergency aid has had to be provided to the EU’s agricultural sector to keep it going. Even this gesture only came about following a demonstration by tractor-driving farmers in Brussels which brought the part of the city in which the EU institutions are located to a grinding halt.

Our farmers are affected as we are part of the EU. However, if we were an independent country, we could keep our nose out of many aspects of this unsavoury regional rivalry which is really of very little strategic interest to us. Norway decided to join the EU and the US in imposing sanctions on Russia, but the decision was made by the Norwegian government. Switzerland initially refused to apply any sanctions, only joining in during August 2014 and again, the decision was taken by the Swiss government. Some EU member states in Eastern Europe have not felt comfortable with the sanctions and view them as counterproductive, notably Hungary and Bulgaria, but they have no scope to lift them unilaterally. Whether our government would pursue a more independent course if we left the EU is very much dependent on who was in power at the time. At least, however, we would have the opportunity to do so.

No summer holiday for the Government as Lord Stoddart keeps the pressure on

Parliament goes into recess this week but Lord Stoddart of Swindon is keeping the pressure on the Government in regard to its agenda for dealing with the EU, by submitting the written questions below.  We are not sure when the answers will be supplied as the recess means that they are not answered on a daily basis and will appear in a weekly round-up.  We will keep you posted.  Alternatively, you can keep up with the many written questions Lord Stoddart puts to the Government at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenanswers

You might be interested to know that Lord Stoddart was named by the Freedom Association as Parliamentarian of the Week on 3rd July.  Read more about it here.

Written question HL1436: Lord Stoddart of Swindon 14-07-2015

Asked by Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Asked on: 14 July 2015

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Lords

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to challenge the imposition of a £642 million fine on the United Kingdom relating to the administration of Common Agricultural Policy farm payments; and whether in their negotiations for a return of powers to the United Kingdom they will include the removal of European Union powers to impose financial penalties on Member States.

Written question HL1437: Lord Stoddart of Swindon 14-07-2015

Asked by Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Asked on: 14 July 2015

Department for Education

Lords

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Nash on 16 June (HL521) concerning schools’ compliance with sections 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996, whether they are aware of campaigns by the European Commission to promote the European Union in primary and secondary schools; and how those educational establishments will provide a balanced treatment of the issue of United Kingdom membership of the European Union.