The present horsemeat scandal presents Miliband and Labour with what should be a simple, unanswerable case against the Tories: more - not less - regulation is the only answer to this and other basic issues of human health, safety and general wellbeing. As with the banking crisis, the politics, morality and efficiency of the unregulated free market has been shown to be grievously wanting.
The case for increased regulation been presented to Labour on a plate.
The Food Standards Agency has had its staff cut by nearly half and its powers of inspection and enforcement delegated to the local authorities, who themselves have suffered massive cuts (their food sampling budgets have been slashed by 70%) and simply cannot carry out these responsibilities.
This fiasco is the direct result of the present government’s attempts to deregulate the food industry. And the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson just happens to be a leading “scorched earth” deregulator. As The Observer‘s not-terribly-left-wing Will Hutton commented:
“That everything Paterson believes in is so wrong is not just a crisis for him – it is a crisis for his party and for Britain’s centre-right media whose prejudices makes thinking straight in the Tory party impossible. A great country cannot be governed by politicians whose instincts and policies are at such odds with reality, so betraying the people, economy and society they govern. The horsemeat crisis is not confined to our food chain. It reveals the existential crisis in contemporary Conservatism.”
So why is it that (according to the polls), the public are not blaming the government, and seem to be accepting the ‘line’ being peddled by Cameron and Patterson: that it’s all the fault of the supermarkets and/or Johnny Foreigner?
We can only conclude that despite some effective interventions by the shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh, Miliband just doesn’t have his eye on the ball. Perhaps he’s too distracted by the useless “Blue Labour” vapourising of Jon Cruddas to seize the main chance when it’s staring him in the face.
And while we’re on the subject of the anti-EU poseur Cruddas, another issue arises as a result of the horse-crisis: as Hutton notes, “Geography means that Britain is inevitably part of the European supply chain. Our efforts at better regulation – and of catching wrongdoers – have to be matched by others for everyone’s sake, exactly what the EU was set up to do and is now doing.”
Yesterday’s Independent on Sunday reported:
It emerged yesterday that ministers are planning to abandon plans to opt out of new European Union regulations requiring producers and retailers to state exactly what is in their mincemeat.The Government had planned to request a derogation from labelling rules on “loose meat”, claiming that the move would limit regulation and cut costs for businesses. But ministers have laid plans for a u-turn after a parliamentary report on the horsemeat crisis said: ‘This is not the time for the Government to be proposing reducing the labelling standards applied to British food.”
An assessment of the opt-out plan, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), revealed that much of Britain’s mincemeat has too much “filler”, including fat and connective tissue. It warned that “a significant proportion of minced meat sold in the UK contains a greater proportion of collagen [connective tissue] than would be permitted” under the new rules.
“There are very sound reasons for proposing this derogation and we are consulting for views on it,” a senior source at Defra said last night. “However, we take the point that it would not be sensible to be talking about giving less information when the public are so concerned over what they don’t know about what might be in their food. I think this ‘preferred option’ will be redrawn, or even shelved, long before the consultation process is over.”
Time for Miliband to dump that posturing buffoon Cruddas, drop any suggestion of Euro-scepticism … and demonstrate some social democratic horse-sense.