Magazine article The Spectator

In for the Long Haul

Magazine article The Spectator

In for the Long Haul

Article excerpt

There was a time when small businessmen looked to the Conservative party to champion their interests, and workers to the Labour party. But farmers and hauliers look to each other now. The blockade of an oil refinery at Stanlow brought the Hauliers' and Farmers' Alliance media attention. However, as I was reminded on a picket line this Sunday, fuel costs are only one area in which they have found common cause.

Peripatetic, working-class lorry drivers and stay-at-home, middle-class farmers may not, at first, appear to have much in common. But nearly everything that comes into or goes out of a farm does so by haulier. A letter I have from the HFA (NorthEast) says it was formed because of `the apparent aim of the UK government to destroy our industries'. The rising cost of fuel is part of that. Government taxes have doubled the price of agricultural diesel in 11 months. Litre for litre, it's almost a third more expensive than milk. The letter also attacked the `indifference and ineptitude' of their unions and trade bodies.

All attempts to negotiate with the government have failed and, while the Road Haulage Association and the National Farmers' Union continue to advocate it, the HFA's aim is to `pressure ministers into creating a level playing-field with regard to taxation and subsidies across the EU" through direct action. It blocked roads at Manchester in June, Chester in July and Bristol a month ago, to media indifference. Then, at an HFA meeting at a cattle market in north Wales last week, it heard that the price of fuel was due to go up again. Stanlow oil refinery was targeted immediately. Hauliers have now promised to join farmers' actions at supermarkets and dairies.

I found my way to the Express Dairies depot in Ashby de la Zouch easily enough. As readers of my column may recall, I'd talked to farmers picketing the depot back in May. Supermarkets had forced down the milk processors' prices and they, in turn, had driven down the farmers' price, so that milk that cost 22.49p per litre from the farm was selling for 16.2p. The pickets succeeded in opening negotiations with the processors, but they broke down a couple of weeks ago. This Sunday was the second in a row that Express Dairies had been targeted. …

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