Standing by your convictions, even if you’re upstaged by a sausage

Who’d be a politician, eh?

Day one of the NFU conference in Birmingham and DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn is welcomed to the stage. From the off Hils looked like he knew he was going to be in for a hard time, so he switched on the charm. He said farmers had done a super job in looking after the environment and insisted it was farmers’ clever ideas which had shaped agricultural policy.

He made it through his speech in one piece and even got a smattering of applause, but then the audience questions started. I’ve heard his response to criticism of his bovine TB policy so many times I can recite it in my sleep. But this time he seemed a bit sharper in his defence – he quickly slipped from charmer to politician mode as he picked apart one farmer’s claims about TB eradication and left the poor chap fumbling for words and red in the face.

Hils must know he’s lost the vote of farmers. This was no doubt the last time he’ll address the NFU conference and he’s probably in the twilight of his DEFRA career before he’s shuffled elsewhere post-general election. But he clearly thinks he made a right and balanced decision. He could’ve just stuck to being charming in an attempt to win round a few voters, but he wanted to argue his case to show he hadn’t just taken the easy route during his time at DEFRA and pandered to the public. Whether I agree with him on TB or not, I think better of him for it.

If the response to the speakers who followed Hils is anything to go by though, I can make a pretty good guess of who’s going to come out on top at the general election.

Shadow farm minister Nick Herbert’s crappy opening joke actually got laughed at, while his speech was twice interrupted with applause.

Meanwhile during his speech, poor old Tim Farron from the Lib Dems got upstaged in the press room by some idle chat over a few sandwiches and sausages on sticks:

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