The pickets are out in Bridgwater this morning. A large group of people are outside the huge Morrisons depot, attempting to block the entrance with a range of vehicles. Doubtless David Cameron will be condemning these people – after all, they didn’t even have a ballot – and will urge the police to break up the illegal picket. Except that he won’t because the pickets are farmers.
The farmers are protesting at the price of milk. It costs them more to produce than they actually get paid and many dairy farmers are being driven out of business. Supermarkets, who are in cut throat competition with each other, sell milk at a loss in order to attract customers to their stores. That can’t be right, can it? Well, actually, if you accept the political and economic order in Britain, where the free market rules, in the eyes of the people it probably is.
After all, we want cheap milk, don’t we? We don’t really want to pay any more than the rock bottom prices being charged in supermarkets. Above all, competition is a good thing and acts for the consumer, doesn’t it?
I drove past a lot of farms before the last General Election and the vast majority of those who displayed a political preference declared their allegiances to the Conservative Party. Now that’s significant because under Cameron and Osborne, the Tories are encouraging more the unregulated free market in many aspects of the economy. In fact, the Tories are the party of the unfettered free market so you could argue that many farmers are now getting their just desserts.
Now I wouldn’t say that farmers are getting their just desserts, certainly not all of them, but there is definitely a debate to be had. It is arguable that, in an unregulated economy, Morrisons (other supermarkets are available) are doing anything wrong. You could say that it is not for them to voluntarily pay more to farmers and pass the costs onto consumers, who might then go to other supermarkets who might see it as an opportunity to increase market share.
Certainly the poor farmers – and some of them are poor – won’t get arrested for picketing, as ordinary trade union members would if too many of them, more than six, gathered outside a workplace for which they were involved in a legal dispute, but the Tories always treat farmers different from everyone else, except in one way: they don’t mind them getting screwed in the free market. Kust like they don’t care about workers engaged in legitimate disputes for which they have a democratic mandate.
The farmers have got a good case, but I suspect that the government which many of them helped get elected won’t be doing anything to help them.