By all accounts last night's NFU/FUW Agricultural hustings was a rough and rowdy affair featuring some fiery exchanges between the candidates. Here's what I have been able to glean from a number of attendees:
- The venue was changed at the last moment from The Bull Hotel to the adjacent Llangefni Town Hall. Attendees were told that this was because a larger than expected number of people had turned up - however, as the Welsh Christian Party candidate, David Owen was also present could the real reason be because he had declined to attend a debate in a pub? After all he has been in the press objecting to the use of a pub in Llanfachtraeth as a polling station…
- Plaid's Dylan Rees was apparently surprisingly knowledgeable about matters agricultural, even pointing out in his opening address that he was "aware of the importance of farming to rural areas" - Really? Who'd have though it.
- All candidates rightly paid tribute to Albert Owen's private members bill to set up a Supermarket Ombudsman ("Oftrolley"), however Albert Owen himself candidly admitted that his party was not behind him (indeed the bill failed to go through before Parliament was recently suspended because the Labour government failed to provide time for the necessary debates and procedures). All candidates also said that if elected they would pledge to put similar legislation in place.
- The biggest bust up of the night came in exchanges between Albert Owen and the Conservative candidate, Anthony Ridge-Newman. Owen once again objected to Ridge-Newman saying that Anglesey is the poorest county in the UK by complaining that the Office of National Statistic's GVA figures only breaks Wales down into eight regions whilst there are 22 counties in Wales. Therefore should those eight regions be subdivided into counties, some places in South Wales would have even lower GVA figures then Anglesey. A clearly angry Ridge-Newman was cut off mid response by a member of the audience loudly demanding "how many counties are there in Wales?". Either the man was able to immediately follow Albert's torturous sophistry or was a frustrated geography teacher - whichever way, Ridge-Newman replied that he didn't know, but nor does he know how many counties there are in England or Scotland either. Cue a very smug expression on Albert Owen's face. For the sake of balance I should point out that the frustrated geography teacher later apparently also attacked Plaid's Dylan Rees and former MP, Keith Best, for only being "dynamic in applying for BT shares" so perhaps he wasn't entirely apolitical.
- In exchanges about Wylfa B, Albert Owen revealed that Energy Secretary Ed Milliband had told him the day before that in the event of a hung parliament Labour would never compromise their pro-nuclear energy policy for the sake of clinging onto power in a coalition government. Dylan Rees was taken to task by the audience for Plaid Cymru's mixed messages on nuclear (Rees is personally pro-Wylfa B whilst his party, and his manifesto is strongly against it). This point was taken up by Peter Rogers who also pointed out that Plaid's Elfyn Llwyd was campaigning against low flying RAF jets in Wales, whilst Rees is pro-RAF valley. "At least we have a manifesto" retorted Rees - "whats the point of having one if you don't follow the policies in it?" came back Peter Roger's reply. At which point angry farmers complained to the Chairman that they had come to the meeting to discuss agricultural matters, not energy policy.
- A dairy farmer said that thanks to the fall of the pound against the euro, he was now doing very well indeed and therefore could any of the candidates tell him why he should vote for anyone other than Labour? The Druid is not sure if the farmer in question actually thought it was official Labour policy to wreck the UK economy and thus devalue sterling or not.
- Other questions from the floor covered the lack of new farmers coming in to the profession, damaging EU legislation, why French farmers got more benefits than UK farmers, and badger culls.
- The Welsh Christian Party's David Owen was apparently surprisingly jocular, coming out with some of the only gags of the evening. Whilst patting his quite large stomach he told the audience that he was glad to attend the agricultural hustings because he "likes his food". He also later revealed that there are "badgers on every street corner in South Wales". You heard it here first.
- The Lib Dem Matt Wood apparently had a poor night of it. With a small voice and arms waving around uncontrollably like those of a string puppet, he was rarely allowed to finish his points before the Chairman briskly moved on to the next question. The UKIP candidate, Elaine Gill, didn't turn up.
UPDATE: Another attendee calls to say that there was some unintended hilarity at the start of the hustings when the Chairman was forced to apologise that the fliers for the meeting incorrectly identifying Peter Rogers as the 'Conservative candidate'... ooh, touchy subject!