I was dropping my eight year old daughter off at a Caudwell Children event on the way to a meeting with local farmers organised by the National Farmers Union. It was being held at a farm in the Congleton constituency, and as I drove she provided me with a list of questions that “…you must ask the farmer daddy”…..but more of that later.
Now, it’s not an obvious thing for a Labour candidate to go and meet farmers in a constituency that’s strongly Tory and I was fully expecting a seriously hard time. I was however, very keen to go; mainly to listen and understand what the issues are but secondly, because I don’t believe the myth that all farmers are Tories and that the Labour Party doesn’t have a lot to offer rural communities.
As it happened I couldn’t have been made to feel any more welcome. The discussion was long and varied – and I must confess that it was at times a steep learning curve – but I was there to hear what the real issues were in this dairy producing area. I am delighted to report that there was an awful lot of agreement around that farmhouse table – as well as a never-ending supply of tea and the most fantastic cake.
The potential spread of bovine TB is the big concern and whilst the threat of the disease in badgers was recognised there was no real appetite for a blanket cull. I really do appreciate their concerns and reiterated my firmly held opinion that real evidence should guide decision-making in this as in all other spheres. The other major issue is the supermarkets race to the bottom over milk prices. This is clearly a situation that cannot be allowed to continue as milk is often costing more to produce than it is being sold for. We also discussed local food production and agreed that public procurement for things such as school and hospital meals could be a way of encouraging this.
Anyway, back to my daughter’s list of questions. I should explain, she has a rare genetic condition called Williams Syndrome, it means that she has learning difficulties and some physical problems too but it also gives rise to obsessional behaviour. One of her long-term obsessions, along with everything to do with Katy Perry and always talking about lunch, is cows and specifically milking cows. This sounds odd but you really have to go with it, we do, it’s the only way! So after the serious business was complete I asked her list of questions, explaining as I did that she had this rare condition called Williams Syndrome that you probably have never even heard of. The response was so unexpected as to be almost unbelievable. “I know all about Williams Syndrome” the host said, my daughter has it too. She was in the next room watching TV and came through to say hello, she was like every single WS person I have ever met absolutely delightful and wanted to hear all about my daughter. Williams Syndrome is randomly occurring and affects approximately 1 in 25,000 people. We have never randomly met another person with WS ad probably never will.
So, a chance encounter during in an election campaign has led to us being invited back to the farm, to give our daughters the chance to meet and for mine to have a full tour of the milking sheds and meet the cows. As a Parliamentary candidate you get lots of invitations, I am so pleased that I accepted this one for many reasons, but not half as pleased as my favourite eight year old is.