Letters: Misreading Cameron, Farming in the balance, Cathedrals and castles

Did Simon Heffer misread Cameron? Plus: a farmer responds to Lisbet Rausing

Standpoint Magazine

Misreading Cameron

David Cameron was prime minister for six years and leader of the Conservative Party for almost 11 years. That is a significant political innings and as such it deserves serious consideration. Yet Simon Heffer’s review of his memoirs (Westminster, November 2019) tells us nothing about the reasons why Cameron won the leadership, or his agenda, let alone about his premiership. Instead he takes two pages to tell us that he hates Cameron, and does so with bile rather than wit.

Cameron made mistakes as prime minister, as he would be the first to acknowledge. Material for a prosecution could easily be garnished from the book. Instead, Heffer rides his own obsessions. Throughout, he refers to the former PM as “Dave”—a childish attempt at belittlement.

Heffer takes issue with David Cameron’s describing himself as a Eurosceptic. Yet the Cameron book is full of Euroscepticism, especially when he chronicles his dealings with other European leaders. This is characteristic of the Cameron approach to Europe throughout his career. Heffer also sneers at Cameron for describing himself as a “Thatcherist” rather than a “Thatcherite”, but the meaning is surely plain. If your reviewer thinks that there is a simple definition of Thatcherism, encompassing the Lady’s deeds as well as her words, he should enlighten the rest of us. Wiser contemporary Tories might agree that Cameron has added a useful term to the political lexicon.

One factual point ought to be corrected, lest it become part of the record. Heffer tells us that Cameron’s EU referendum pledge was insincere, because he “cynically hoped” that he would be forming another coalition with Nick Clegg, who would have blocked it. That is nonsense. Cameron went into that campaign fighting to win, as Clegg could ruefully testify. The Tory leader decreed that his party would vigorously contest every Lib Dem seat. During those brief weeks, I had two conversations with Cameron about the likely result. On both occasions he said the same thing. He had been up and down the country finding enthusiastic candidates and Tory associations, all working flat out. He would have felt hopeful, but for the opinion polls. It seemed that the British people were determined to set him another chess problem. On the referendum, the prime minister was overconfident. He was not dishonest.

Bruce Anderson, London SW1


Farming in the balance

Lisbet Rausing (Bright Green, November 2019) is right to point out that the argument over meat eating is a good deal more nuanced than is often allowed. However, her article traduces British farmers in her depiction of conventional livestock farming in this country. She falls for the Rousseauist propaganda when she suggests that wilding is the way forward. Wilding is a great thing if done properly with grazing animals but it is only made possible through land being released by the ability of more intensive farming systems to feed the planet. There is definitely not more soya in your steak than in your tofu and in fact none at all in most British beef, which is largely produced from grass with some upcycling of non-edible (by humans) residues from other products like straw and brewers’ grains. Barley as the only edible food makes up perhaps 5 per cent of the total life-long diet. Even on the most generous assumptions, her estimate of 20 kilos of soya to one kilo of beef is out by a factor of five.

Carefully managed intensive grazing systems in this country are capable of sequestering huge quantities of carbon back into the ground where it belongs, with far less damage to the environment than so-called plant-based food production.

British livestock farming is having a dreadful year with low prices and farmer suicides at record levels. Tarring British beef with the same brush as Brazilian rainforest beef and US feedlot beef does not help.

Jamie Blackett, Dumfries & Galloway

Lisbet Rausing writes: Jamie Blackett is quite right that well-managed livestock, fed throughout their full lives on pasture that is not fertilised with nitrogens, and non-seeded, is win-win-win-win (healthy meat, happy animals, carbon sequestered, and biodiversity maintained). I was commenting on intensive feedlots, most common in the US, though there are also some in Britain, and on rainforest clearances for cattle ranching. He rightly notes it is no sin to finish cattle on more fattening feeds if it is done thoughtfully, perhaps using otherwise wasted agricultural products.

Feed conversion ratios are tricky. I calculate it per kilo of meat actually eaten by us humans, not on the weight of the live animals (which farmers use to see which breeds are most efficient). It takes roughly 7kg of grain to produce one kilo of live weight (the whole animal carcass). The hanging weight (without hooves, hides, head, stomach, etc) is about 60 per cent of that. The take-home weight is about 60 per cent of that in turn. So the farm-to-fork grain-to-beef conversion ratio is, roughly, 20:1. Mr Blackett is also right to point out that British farmers are hard-pressed.


Cathedrals and castles

Compelling though it is to read in typical English or, more accurately, contemporary English fashion about our country’s past, Simon Jenkins (“‘Capitalitis’ makes Celts cringe”, November 2019) skims over institutional Christianity in its political shaping. He similarly skims over the Norman Conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy in 1066, a conquest carried through more thoroughly and ruthlessly than the conquest, or intrusion, some 100 years later, into Ireland where resistance was less.

William conquered England under the banner of St Peter, conferred on him as a blessing by the Bishop of Rome (soon to have exclusive use of the title Pope in Western Christendom). Following his victory however, William refused to swear fealty to the Pope, saying all he had promised him was to bring order to the English Church. To that end he had dismissed all Anglo-Saxon bishops, bar one, and appointed Normans in their stead. He also began the programme that gave England its great Norman cathedrals as well as its castles. Ireland has fewer.

What William refused, King John conceded under different circumstances in 1213. Pope Innocent III ruled that the lordship of Ireland be exercised by the kings of England. It was not until Henry VIII that Ireland was declared a kingdom, with Henry as king acclaimed at High Mass attended by many of the Celtic chiefs in Dublin’s St Patrick Cathedral.

It was in the 1790s that Robert Stewart, a young Irish MP in the Parliament in Dublin, from a family home just south of a Belfast stirred by French Revolutionary ideas, pondered Ireland’s political future. Should it lie in the French Empire or in political union with great Britain? He chose the latter. Years later as Viscount Castlereagh, he was the British Foreign Secretary who after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 was a leading participant in shaping a then new European order, the Congress of Vienna.

Today another new order is taking shape, but, unlike the Congress, it is causing problems in the British Isles as nationalisms clash. Even though religious differences fade in this secular age, continental interference, we should remember, is nothing new.

W.A. Miller, Belfast

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"