It has to be said that people do seem to enjoy a bit of good old fashioned gloom and despondency. Every silver lining has a cloud. As Noel Coward sang, “There are bad times just around the corner.”
‘They’re mad at Market Harborough
And livid at Leigh-on-Sea,
In Tunbridge Wells
You can hear the yells
Of woe-begone bourgeoisie.
We all get bitched about, lads,
Whoever our vote elects,
We know we’re up the spout, lads.
And that’s what England expects.
Hurray, hurray, hurray!
Trouble is on the way.
There are bad times just around the corner,
The horizon’s gloomy as can be,
There are black birds over
The grayish cliffs of Dover
And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC
We’re an unhappy breed
And very bored indeed
When reminded of something that Nelson said.
While the press and the politicians nag nag nag
We’ll wait until we drop down dead.’
It has to be admitted that the last five years have really pushed forward the frontiers of doomsaying. If I had a pound for every time somebody told me that this country would collapse to third world status, I’d probably have the cash to put in an offer and buy it.
The problem seems to be one of mental attitude. People are so delighted to find another thing to point the finger at and claim, ‘we’re all doomed’ that they don’t bother looking at the small print.
So I want to look at the ‘big picture’ by squinting closely at some of the detail. The current cry of woe is that thanks to leaving the EU and signing a deal with the Australians, our beef industry is doomed and the British public will have to eat beef produced using artificial hormones.
The pundits are starting to think this will be unlikely. “Former NFU chief economist Sean Rickard predicted that not much would change in the next two years, but significant change would be felt in 10-15 years’ time.”
Indeed, according to AHDB, since the start of 2020, Australian beef has been more expensive than UK produced beef. If we’d had a free trade deal with the Australians they might have been buying our beef, not the other way around. If anything, at the moment our beef price is held down by Irish imports from the EU. We’ve lived with cheaper Irish imports for well over a century.
Now obviously the Australian situation might be a blip. But Australia has seen a few bad bushfire years. Even without arguing whether climate change is man-made, (because that isn’t an argument for this blog post) it’s evident when looking at the past, climates do change. This is obvious, at the very least because we have had ice ages. If we work on the principle that climate change is going to continue for at least another decade, (even if it’s cyclical and might start dropping in another century) by 2030 the Australians might even be net importers of beef.
Then what about dear old Blighty? In 2030/35 are we going to be enthusiastic importers of Australian beef? After all, it’s probably three general elections off, so gods alone know what sort of government we’ve got or what sort of regulation we have in place.
But according to current plans, by 2030, if you want a new car in the UK, it will have to be electric. If you buy it new house it almost certainly won’t have gas central heating, indeed by then, if your gas boiler fails, you will probably have to replace it with something else because nobody makes gas boilers any more. Now these new technologies might be cheaper, more efficient, and leave you with a larger disposable income, or they might not. I’ll let you decide for yourself how much gloom and doom you want to wallow in on this front.
Indeed, all sorts of things seem to be coming down the track. We appear to be getting more rain, and when it comes, it comes in larger quantities over a smaller period. So we will see more flooding. You remember all these houses that local authorities cheerfully allowed to be built on the flood plain? At what point is it going to be the sensible thing to just demolish them, return the flood plain to being a flood plain, and insist people have grass in their gardens rather than concreting them over to park cars on. That way water doesn’t run off as fast. And if they can no longer afford cars, then they might as well have grass to sit on, because they’re not going anywhere soon anyway. After all who will take a tourist flight when you’re accused of wanting to watch the world burn?
It’s remarkably easy to build an atmosphere of alarm and despondency. In fact the last year or so has shown us that a fair proportion of the population are perfectly happy to be frightened and made to stay in the house, provided they keep full salary and can ‘work from home’.
But looking fifteen years ahead is about as meaningful as asking to see the weather forecast that far ahead for one particular day and one particular place.
After all, in fifteen years will there be a UK? Will the UK, if it exists, be part of the EU again, or will the EU have split as well? Indeed looking at China, where the communist party has just celebrated a centenary, a hundred years is good going for a Chinese Dynasty.
Looking at agriculture, at the very least they’ll still need an agriculture. Even if they’re feeding the proles on kibble bars, they’ll still need somebody to grow the stuff. But when and how will the food be grown?
If we have heavier rainfall, even without rising sea levels some land might no longer be ploughable. Indeed there’s a strong argument for going back to farming water meadows properly. That will increase the need for grazing livestock, but on the other hand, if we lose lowland arable due to a sharp rise in the water table, we might be looking at ploughing further up the hill. I remember talking to one agronomist who commented that the finest crop of barley he’d ever seen was grown at over a thousand feet in North Cumbria.
So frankly beating your breast and bewailing the end of days because of a trade deal with the Australians that could have serious implications in ten to fifteen years’ time is frankly unprofessional. A competent doomsayer can find a score of better reasons for wailing and gnashing their teeth.
There again, what do I know.
As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”