Wednesday 11 August 2021

Geronimo Must Die

When Westminster packs up for its summer holidays, convention has it that politics-as-usual ceases. Into the gap rushes tales of the silly and the strange, not that the fearless British media don't already ignore the issues that really count as a matter of routine. And when there is proper news, their interest is casual and unserious. For instance, the IPCC report might, you could be forgiven for thinking, fill the news agenda for a few days. It managed a few front pages, including the Daily Mail's, but the column inches devoted to climate collapse and the doom this spells for millions of people are nothing compared to the hot button issue of August. Geronimo the Alpaca.

In case you haven't encountered the case, Geronimo was imported from New Zealand by his owner, Helen Macdonald. Unfortunately, our protagonist has tested twice for bovine TB and as per the law, he has to be put down as a precautionary measure to prevent its spread. Macdonald maintains the tests were false positives and has battled in court to save his life, with her last ditch efforts at the high court folding last week. The papers are signed and Defra officials are due at any time to carry out the sentence. This case has captured the media's eye, getting coverage on breakfast TV, acres of print, and the backing of The Sun's conservation correspondent, a certain Stanley Johnson. There's been a protest too.

And there is the politics. The environment secretary George Eustice has turned a deaf ear to the slow bubbling outcry, a decision that could do his standing more damage than destroying British farming. Boris Johnson appears to be losing his populist touch, as he's on the 'Geronimo must die' wagon too. And entirely consistent with Keir Starmer's effective opposition, not for the first time he's backing the government. It's "tragic", said the Labour leader, "but we have to keep TB under control."

Tragic or not, stories like the hapless Geronimo are useful for politicians. It gives them opportunity to prove themselves hard bastards. Starmer can do the whole 'with regret' thing, but for anyone watching no one is left in any doubt that he'll do what's necessary. Indeed, it's a wonder he hasn't volunteered to but on the overalls and take up the bolt gun himself. Still, he should be thankful this is the only moral quandary he's been asked about today. Sharper journalists might have quizzed him about his thoughts concerning the leader of the Labour group on Ashford council calling for border guard militias.

It does the same for Johnson too. While some might think there are compassion points to be won for saving the alpaca, and that this would be right up the Prime Minister's street, what matters most for Johnson is the preservation of his authority. If he's prepared for people to die rather than being seen to give in to Labour's process criticisms of his pandemic management, he's not about to let a tabloid TV campaign change his mind for him in the full glare of publicity. That looks too much like caving in, and if something as minor as the fate of an obscure farm animal can move government it might encourage others to prosecute their claims. As the governments of the last 40 years are utterly dependent on the authority of their PM, the Tories have quickly learned this must be preserved. Or electoral defeat raises its head.

Poor Geronimo. He cannot comprehend the storm swirling above his head, but we can. While quintessential silly season fodder, this episode reveals a lot about the state of politics in 2021.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

Wasn't Phoenix The Calf a major part of Blair's campaign in 2000, during the foot and mouth culling?

How politics transforms itself (goak here)

Anonymous said...

2001 - and were they?

Dr Zoltan Jorovic said...

A vaccine exists for TB. It was administered to all UK children at one time. It works on cattle and badgers, and no doubt on Alpacas too. The only reason that animals are not vaccinated is that the existing (unreliable) test cannot distinguish between a vaccinated animal and an infected one. There needs to be a DIVA test (Differentiating Infected from Vaccinated Animals). A DIVA test exists, by DEFRA show no sign of getting it approved and in use. You should probably be asking them why they are allowing a 50-80% accurate skin test to detect TB to be used which ensures the continuance of the disease in cattle, when a vaccine and DIVA test combination could eradicate TB in all animals. And ensure pets like Geronimo, and our wild badgers, are not innocent victims of DEFRA and the cattle Vet industry's obstinacy.