Political sketch by Matthew George in Westminster...
So, another day in the life of this faltering coalition Government, and another U-turn, this time on the West badger cull.
The Daily Press was assured, on the record last Thursday, the plan would go ahead as planned this year in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
Those promises came from both Defra and the NFU, but given the journalistic maxim to never believe anything until it’s been officially denied, the alarm bells should have been ringing.
Yesterday it fell to the new Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to front up to MPs and admit the cull will not in fact happen this year, flanked by Agriculture Minister David Heath, Somerton & Frome MP.
As Queen guitarist Brian May, a leading campaigner against killing badgers, watched from a Commons gallery, Mr Paterson blamed bad weather and this summer’s Olympics for the delay.
He also blamed the badgers themselves, as Mr Paterson found out – very late in the day – there are just too many of them for the cull to work, especially in Somerset.
So if they want to make their temporary reprieve a permanent one, all they have to do is keep on breeding at ever increased rates.
Critics scrambled to find suitable Twitter hashtags, such as #BadgerBodge, #settback, #abrockalypse Later and #omnivoreshambles.
Mr Paterson, who famously used to have two pet badgers, was in a thunderous mood, banging the despatch box at one point as he was quizzed on how much money has been wasted on the cull.
He gave the impression he would be more than happy personally to slaughter all 4,300 badgers in the West Somerset pilot area, and the 3,600 in West Gloucestershire. At times, his emergency statement verged on the surreal, such as when he revealed how just 1 millilitre of badger urine contains enough TB to spread the disease.
The previous big Defra U-turn was on selling off our forests, abandoned after mass criticism, which effectively did for Caroline Spelman, Mr Paterson’s predecessor.
There is plenty of opposition to the badger cull too, but unlike the forest sell-off, it is supported by most Tory MPs.
They turned up in numbers yesterday, turning their fire on Labour for doing nothing to halt the spread of bovine TB when they were in power.
With the farmers also proving supportive, Mr Paterson should survive yesterday’s embarrassment, although his long-term political future rests on getting the cull right next year.