Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Column, October 11, 2005

AS military disasters go it is unlikely that the cancellation of Operation Pilgrim’s Progress will merit a mention in the history books.
After all, when it comes to things going awry for the poor bloody infantry (as well as the sailors and airmen) a brief perusal of history books yields plenty to choose from.
Whether it’s the Charge of the Light Brigade, Dunkirk or Dien Bien Phu, we all enjoy disaster, retreat and heroic defeat as much, it would seem, as we do victory.
But the battle of Carmarthen, when the crack troops of the FUW met, matched and routed the Army’s top brass, should not go down in the annals of glory.
The farmers wanted to make a point about hunting, namely that they were unhappy it had been banned. And they made that point by banning the Army from, using their land for a nine-day SAS recruiting exercise called Pilgrim’s Progress.
The exercise which would have taken place in an area stretching from Aberystwyth to Carmarthen has now got to find another home after the farmers’ fit of pique.
Because that’s what it was. A collective spitting of dummies simply because they don’t like the hunt ban.
Now, the farmers have every right not to like the hunt ban, and of course they are perfectly within their rights not to allow the Army onto their land.
But what on earth was the point that they thought was being made by this action?
Do they think that urgent dispatches were sent to Whitehall where ashen-faced officials informed the minister who took the news with all the gravity of a man being informed of the fall of Singapore?
Do you even think this fit of petulance even registered on the radar of the Ministry of Defence?
We’re talking about a Government which fights a war with one hand while cutting back the Army it uses to fight that war with the other. They could not care less what access the SAS have to land to train on.
Do you think Dr John Reid’s brow furrowed in even the slightest to hear of the FUW protest? No it will have been business as usual – which regiments are we axing and which are we sending to Iraq?
The only people this protest will affect is the soldiers who were due to take part in it, no-one else whatsoever.
I’m sure the SAS will find another home for Pilgrim’s Progress, but that’s not really the point is it. What sort of message are you sending to our armed forces if you are not prepared to allow them to train on the most rugged terrain available?
We’re happy for them to fight for us, to die for us, but not to crawl across our mountains training to do so?
I’m sorry, but that’s a pretty poor thing to say to a soldier who, in the next few months, may be facing down a baying mob intent on separating his head from his shoulders.
No matter how wrong you believe the hunt ban to be, that does not justify taking out your opposition on soldiers who have no part in making government policy and who probably oppose it themselves.
I appreciate the frustration that farmers must feel faced with a government that is so out of touch with rural affairs, and what is more, a government that does not really care about that because it knows that it has got enough votes sewn up in the cities to carry it to power.
But if protest is to do any good whatsoever it needs to have an electoral effect. Blair and his cabal will pay no heed to anyone who cannot deliver, or withdraw, enough votes to make a difference at the next election.
I’m afraid that stopping a few troops from exercising on your land will not cause the collapse of this government.
Of course if enough landowners stop enough of them training all over the UK then the end result might mean more of them dying – which could have an effect of the odd by-election.
But I’m not sure even the most ardent huntsman would say that was a price worth paying just to chase a fox.

WORDS I thought I’d never hear myself speak: Robyn Lewis has a point.
He rightly draws my attention to the fact that a Welsh gold medal winner would ascend the rostrum to the dirge that is ‘God Save The Queen.’
If we do not have our own Olympic team then that is what we have to face should one of our sporting countrymen and women win the ultimate prize.
That can’t be right, even though we know that in their head they’d be humming Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and in their mind’s eye it would be a Dragon fluttering in the breeze, not a Union flag.
So, though I have grave reservations about it ever getting off the ground, and though I think that athletics is unlike rugby in the way it is supported, I’m prepared to see the argument of those who want a Welsh Olympic team.
But on musical grounds only.

IT is encouraging, but a little foolhardy from Assembly ministers to promise that an e-coli outbreak ‘will never happen again’ in Wales.
Yet this is exactly what they are promising will be the outcome of the inquiry into what has happened that allowed schoolchildren to be fed food that poisoned and killed one of their number.
It shows a worrying lack of understanding of just how e-coli infections happen and how Assembly ministers feel they are going to eradicate bacteria that have thus far avoided all measures to do so is a bit of a mystery.
However, increasing the number of environmental health inspectors and increasing the frequency and likelihood of random inspection of premises might be a step in the right direction.
Oh, and as long as you pay a pittance for school food you will get what you pay for, despite all your promises of a new healthy regime for children’s dinners.

WELL done to Anglesey County Council for listening to reason over the issue of school bus fares.
It was a lot to expect families to find £60 at the start of term and it would have caused great hardship to some.
Now families on the island can look forward to a daily panic to find that elusive 20p for the bus fare.
My advice – down the back of the sofa is always a safe bet if you don’t mind your bus fare covered in fluff and a toffee wrapper.

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