What is the future going to bring us?

I went down to London the other day. First time for a couple of years, so I was quite intrigued to see what things were like down there. On the train and the stations, masks were optional. Pretty much the same proportion of people were wearing them as wear them round here. Once in the big city it did feel quiet. Just walking across the city there were fewer people about that I would have expected. On the tube, whilst Transport for London kept announcing the wearing of masks was mandatory, I reckon that about 50% of people were wearing them at the time, and only about half the staff wore one. The only place I was asked to wear a mask was going into a bookshop. His shop, his rules, so I put a mask on. Walking through Whitehall, St John’s Smith Square and Horseferry Road, there were so few civil servants about that if it wasn’t for the security guards it would have been empty. I noticed one block of Whitehall offices being turned into flats. Looks like the government’s plan to cut their central London office estate by 80% is progressing. A lot of civil servants are still working from home and I suspect they’ll not be coming back. Once you get to a certain age and have outgrown ambition it could be nice to drift through working from home into semi-retirement. Coming home, I’ve spent a bit of time over the years, waiting at Euston Station where the concourse can get very crowded. Well this time it wasn’t that crowded, but then they called the Manchester train. Those of us were left just stood there and admired the tumbleweed rolling across. I’ve never known it as empty waiting for the 16:30.

But just watching, it strikes me that whilst there are those who are genuinely worried, and those who are posturing for political reasons (both for and against masks) most people have moved on. Covid is an endemic disease, the people who are vulnerable were vulnerable to flu and in some cases, to colds and similar.

It’s the same with Brexit. It’s not surprising really, the vote was on 23 June 2016. Yes there are people who got over-emotional over it all, but most people are just getting on with life. Yes there’s political arguments with EU members, and disputes with the French but most people have heard so many horror stories they no longer take a lot of notice. We’re no longer in the EU and love it or loathe it, most people are used to it.

And now we’ve got global warming and there are all sorts of predictions. I saw one headline where somebody was claiming that farming in the UK would collapse by 2100AD. I confess I never bothered to read the article, neither I nor the writer were going to be alive then. I cheerfully make predictions about what the world will be like when I’m safely dead. If I’m wrong, you can come and shout imprecations at a small plaque in a country churchyard if it makes you feel better.

But it does seem that with regard to climate change, the population fall as usual into three groups. One is apparently absolutely terrified and believe the worst. One group doesn’t believe in it and will never believe in it. The third group, by far the largest, have just shrugged, would agree that something needs to be done, and assume that the people at both extremes are lying, hysterical, or have careers in the industry.

But just talking to people, they seem resigned to things having to be done, and they assume that it will be them who will pay for it. These strike me as entirely reasonable assumptions. From the point of view of the politicians, they have the luxury of putting forward programmes and not having to face the consequences. So in this country some of the extra costs we’re all currently paying are due to announcements made by Ed Miliband when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. But to be fair, some of the successes we’ve seen have been due to measures he took. It’s the same with stuff being announced now. Back in spring 2019, Philip Hammond as chancellor announced that ‘fossil-fuel heating systems’ would not be installed in any domestic new build properties from 2025. He’s been kicked upstairs to the Lords and it’s Boris and his administration who has to deal with the issue. In all probability it’ll be Boris’s successor who will get the flak from the electorate when those particular chickens come home to roost.

But it’s obvious to everybody that the road we’re having to walk is going to be awfully costly for the ordinary taxpayer and consumer. Energy is going to be more expensive, and most things take energy to produce or transport. So pretty much everything is going to be more expensive, and a lot of things we took for granted will no longer be affordable. I’m still waiting for the campaign to put people off flying on holiday. “Jet off early to watch the world burn.”

From an agricultural point of view this isn’t entirely good news. On one hand, given that people are going to be short of money and feeling the squeeze, any UK government of any political persuasion is going to do what they can to make sure price of staple foodstuffs are kept down. So whoever is in power will make trade deals with places like New Zealand, Australia and South America to not merely guarantee supply but also to ensure the prices stay low. The last thing any UK government wants is people skint, hungry, and angry. Looked at from a historical point of view, government is being longsighted.

Bit of a sod for farmers, but then there are 107 thousand farmers in the UK. We form about 0.16% of the UK population. Politically we’re irrelevant. We’re outnumbered by vegans (admittedly their numbers churn far more quickly than ours,) In fact we’re outnumbered two to one by the 365,000 licenced taxi and private hire drivers. 

Government (and here I’m ignoring political party again) are going to have to balance output (because the smarter ones have realised that we will have to produce stuff here), environmental concerns, and recreation and tourism.

I think we have to be realistic. UK governments have followed a ‘cheap food’ policy since the war if not since the repeal of the Corn Laws and the industrial revolution. This policy is not going to change. Those who survive in farming are going to be the good ones. The efficient who aren’t over-borrowed, those lucky in their location for picking up environmental money, and those which a sharp eye for a chance.

There will be opportunities coming up. In thirty years time selling hay to commuters and hauling away horse muck or night soil might be the way to go.


There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts!
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As a reviewer commented, “Dipping in and out of this book, as ever with Jim Webster’s farming anecdotes, is a great way to relax – although thought provoking at times, despairing at others, the humour is ever present, and how welcome is that in these times?”

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18 thoughts on “What is the future going to bring us?

  1. rootsandroutes2012 November 7, 2021 at 5:57 am Reply

    I wouldn’t bet my socks on Boris’s successor picking up the flak when chickens come home to roost. We might have gone from Spreadsheet Phil to the rather more thinking man called Rishi Sunak, missing Sajeed Javid on the way if we blinked, but Boris could have more staying power. A classicist he may be (and I like that) but in other ways people can see him as being rather more like themselves than any previous Prime Minister for quite some years. He’s quirky. If you don’t like his haircut (if he’s ever really had one) you can do the other thing. He’s immoral (or possibly amoral), fathering children with who knows how many women. He’s utterly hypocritical, marrying in the Roman Catholic Church despite surely being aware of their teaching on marriage. And, in an odd sort of way, people like that. He has warts, just like the rest of us, and if he tries to pretend otherwise (which I doubt), he really doesn’t make a very good job of it. I reckon it will take someone quite a lot less bland than Keir Starmer to dislodge him from No.10.

    • jwebster2 November 7, 2021 at 6:26 am Reply

      I agree with your analysis of him and his support, but I’m not sure I can think of any UK prime minister who is so hated by so many people. Maggie was hated by the left but they have been largely irrelevant since her day anyway. Boris appears to be hated by the people who regard themselves as ‘the establishment’. I suspect they’ll never forgive him for Brexit.
      My suspicion is that at some point there’ll be something and the establishment will pile on and do their damnedest t destroy him
      I suspect they’ll try to destroy him and then look round for somebody to replace him.
      Boris would appreciate the fact that like the Ides of March, they want to kill Caesar, they haven’t got a candidate to replace him with

      • rootsandroutes2012 November 7, 2021 at 6:48 am

        If you’re right about that, watch out for Rishi. You won’t have missed him starting to talk about morality in his budget speech. He may be positioning himself for a move next door, and the complete change of tone would be refreshing to some.

      • jwebster2 November 7, 2021 at 7:23 am

        I think Rishi has a far broader base of public support. Also he’s a northern MP, (Richmond) following William Hague and Leon Brittan in his seat so that might weigh in his favour as well
        But his big advantage is that people don’t hate him.
        Boris has probably survived by being Marmite 🙂

  2. Cathy Cade November 7, 2021 at 8:02 am Reply

    I would have thought there would be more push to provide our own foodstuffs than import from the other side of the world. However cheaply they’re supplying, surely the cost of delivery (both financial and ecological, not to mention time) should encourage the country to grow its own? (But what do I know? I just buy the stuff.)
    Vegans come and go. I’m not disagreeing that we could all probably eat less meat, but I’d like a little more public acknowledgement that people are not herbivores and require nutritional elements that are only available from meat (or manufactured from meat, which is essentially the same thing).

    • jwebster2 November 7, 2021 at 9:29 am Reply

      Not only that but our livestock play a vital role in using up waste products we don’t eat, and also grassland sequesters carbon which ploughing immediately releases. So nothing is ever simple.
      With regard to food production, some foods can be produced more cheaply in some areas. The area may be less densely populated so land is cheaper. The population may be used to surviving on much lower wages, the weather may mean that you don’t need to use much energy in growing the crop. But if climates change just who these producers are may change as well

  3. Chel Owens November 7, 2021 at 10:49 am Reply

    And this is why you should be running the country and not those who seek it. These are all sound, reasonable observations. It’s also odd to me how much is similar with this side of the pond.

    • jwebster2 November 7, 2021 at 1:05 pm Reply

      It’s the same world and the pond is just a pond 🙂
      There are differences but in so many underlying things the similarities outweigh them

      • Chel Owens November 7, 2021 at 3:17 pm

        True. I just thought you’d have different natural resources and therefore different heating, for example.

      • jwebster2 November 7, 2021 at 5:15 pm

        Well the UK switched over from coal, and coal gas, to natural gas. Remember a small densely populated country can look at running gas mains to most houses. We have about 28 million households in the UK and only 4 million of them don’t have mains gas (I’m part of one of them)
        So yes, we don’t burn as much coal as we did. but the hike in gas prices is going to cost a lot of people a lot of money

  4. Doug Jacquier November 7, 2021 at 11:31 am Reply

    To support Chel’s observation, the dilemmas are global and it’s difficult to find the leaders that are needed in this situation, hence the propensity to clutch at ‘leaders’ that seem to have simple solutions. It is hard to imagine a time when the challenges to leadership were so great and where the politically acceptable (and enforceable) way forward was so elusive. Climate change, pandemics, water politics etc is going to take us to unimaginable places, in the same way that the industrial revolution did. In that sense, the majority who are just hanging on and hoping for the best but living with the outcomes are probably the ones sleeping best at night. In that sense, I am reminded of this anecdote: Marlon Brando was in an acting class that was told to act like chickens and that a nuclear bomb was about to fall on them. Most of the class clucked wildly, but Brando sat calmly and pretended to lay an egg. When Stella Adler asked why he said, “I’m a chicken, what do I know about bombs?”

    • jwebster2 November 7, 2021 at 1:07 pm Reply

      Brando was right.
      One thing I’ve learned in agriculture is that if you react quickly to all this stuff you end up in trouble. Continue what you do well and slowly evolve and you’re do OK

  5. Stevie Turner November 7, 2021 at 11:59 am Reply

    The young I think are mainly the ones who are terrified and believe the worst regarding climate change, particularly as they are the ones who will mainly suffer the consequences. There are many opinionated middle agers and older people who do not believe climate change will happen, but the majority realise they on their own cannot do anything about it and that it needs to be a worldwide project. I’m of the opinion world Governments will have to force people to comply before any changes will happen. If changes are not mandatory, then people will not comply if it makes them poorer.

    • jwebster2 November 7, 2021 at 1:09 pm Reply

      That’s what I think is happening. Changes are being mandated but they’re along the track, so they will happen and then people will notice what they nodded wisely at ten years before. But by then it’s not going to be possible for them to go back.
      Your central heating boiler failed? Sorry, nobody has the bits for them anymore. You’ll have to fit a heat pump (or whatever) instead. Or just wear more.

      Actually I think a lot of people are going to have to learn to just wear more

      • Stevie Turner November 7, 2021 at 1:39 pm

        Many homes I go into are too hot. Windows are shut fast and it’s like sitting in an oven. Some people will have a shock coming…

      • jwebster2 November 7, 2021 at 5:12 pm

        yes, I’ve never lived in a house with central heating so I tend to be a bit jaundiced about the whole thing 🙂

  6. Widdershins November 8, 2021 at 1:04 am Reply

    It’s not going to be pretty, that’s for sure. 😦

    • jwebster2 November 8, 2021 at 5:45 am Reply

      I suspect that people are not going to be happy to pay through the nose in tax to watch the elite fly about in private jets

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