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Experts villified

Fashionably ‘received wisdom’ asserts popular dissatisfaction with ‘experts’ lies at the root of the political upheaval represented by #Brexit and the election of #Trump.

Even the most  elementary examination of this regularly mooted idea exposes its absurdity given the complexity of our highly technological and science dependent need for specialists and advanced skills.

Increasingly soft argument and popular cliches are deployed to disguise the truth that our problems lay more in the deficiencies and inadequacies of the mass population’s ability to be informed and to critically asssess the presented information.

Even the briefest conversation with persons on the street exposes the crass level of much missunderstanding. Complex constitutional , economic  or scientific subjects inevitably elude simple reduction and few are versed in the vast scope and ever changing arcane minutiae of matters. However, that is not a  justification for abdication of making an effort to understand difficult matters but the failure to promote critical thought. Public education is a soft target if you place the emphasis on individuals to attain the ability to be critical and responsible for holding government and politicians to account and can be addressed as a separate issue.

The real culprits unquestionably are platforms that deliver media of a distorted and dumbed down nature in this age of celebrity and sound bite more designed to entertain than examine and challenge.

Given The Press is required in a democracy to be free to challenge government and require accountability ,our present arrangements are patently deficient.

Popularly a few broadsheets maintain a credible standard  that is hardly objective if barely better presented ; but they address a minority. The majority of electors read and watch mass media which is barely more than celebrity indulgent and composed of proprietor driven opinion that holds to mediocrity to keep its audience if not stupefied confused to maintain apathy.

It was Peter Watkins who’s film about nuclear holocaust   ( The War Game 1965 , repressed by successive governments and the commissioning BBC), who pointed out the average length of camera shot was reducing in 1970 from more than 20 seconds to under 12 seconds and that he maintained was influencing audience concentration ability. Today many programmes depend or promote ‘cut times’ of 3-4 seconds when editing interviews to maintain attention and the vigour of the item. This constant changing of camera activity and the celebrity interviewers with heavily defined 2 to 3 minute ‘slots’constricts examination and reduces the ability of audiences to pay attention to all but the sensational or comfortable subject matter.

The real problem is not ‘expertise’,but a general public softened up over 50 years by an increasingly dumbed down media .

I wouldn’t want to return to the painfully intellectualised ‘Brains Trust’ of Muggeridge and Gilbert Harding but the alternative bear pit of populist  Question Time is not the route to improving discussion.

The Farage syndrome of popular simplistic nonsense always appealing to a delusional ‘unreality’ in the name of commonsence and slandering anyone actually applying themselves to the hard yards has been exposed to successive electoral failure that only the BBC seems to ignore in the pursuit of audience ratings thus allowing ‘the real villain’ to give credence to the myth of  experts as villains.

Inevitably there are inadequate ‘experts’ but many of whom would not have been elevated to power but for media failure to challenge their misnomers before they gained oxygen .

We need a new generation of fearless interviewers and a boycott of the right wing tabloid press combined with a public renaissance of critical thinking.

As for wholesale condemnation of experts , just try to do without them .

Steve Tomlin.

Asthal Leigh NYE2017





Another variation of the truth……

Inspired by @patmurphybbc , Luke Williams @interiorporn Tweets and Norman Tebbit on #R4 The World at One today Dec 06/13.

#Nelson Mandela’s death was always going to trigger a massive outpouring of grief given his monumental personal triumph over adversity whilst retaining a humility that belied his powerful influence as the most recognised African in the world .

In the huge Twitter response that reflected both admiration for Mandela and anger with his former detractors and revisionist commentators I noticed my friend Luke William’s suggestion that the moment was not appropriate for anything other than grief.

The point was well made, and knowing Luke, I have no doubt sincerely intended to discourage needless recrimination at a moment of celebratory outpouring of grief.

So the matter would have rested when @patmurphybbc pointed out the courage and prescience of a small group of voices forty years ago that stood against the then general public opinion and voiced opposition to the apartheid regime that existed in South Africa an it’s relationship with “sport”  which sought to proliferate the view that “sport was not political”.

Tweet:*Remembering brave men such as John Arlott,Mike Brearley,Rev David Sheppard & Peter Hain tonight when assessing sport’s impact on apartheid and added in a second  response to @spiritofswanton 1/2 And let’s not forget the rugby player John Taylor refusing to go on the Lions’ tour to SA in ’74.Or Peter Lever  2/2 refusing to play for the Duke of Norfolk’s XI v the 1960 South African tourists soon after the Sharpeville atrocity.

I am indebted to Pat Murphy, who I know only through our mutual village cricketing experiences at Sheepscombe, for bravely reminding any revisionists that some people remember how ghastly the racist sympathy was in Britain in 1970 which endorsed Rugby and Cricket tours with “white” South Africa, whilst Mandela was incarcerated in Roben Island as “a terrorist” and not the vaunted freedom fighter who resisted the repressive apartheid of white South Africa.

Such was Pat Murphy’s accurate reminder that I feel the need to recall my own humble contribution before too many others try to rewrite history or diminish how anyone opposing apartheid was marginalised.

Having arrived in Bournemouth in 1969 to orchestrate the opposition to the closure of Bournemouth School of Architecture by the then Education Minister Margaret Thatcher I became involved with a student group attached to the Bournemouth Art College who formed an Anti-Apartheid group to oppose the 1970’s White South African Rugby Association tour of Britain.

Stop the Seventies Tour

I recall picketing the Dormey Hotel in Ferndown where the  South African Rugby players were staying and training . I have the vaguest memory of being accused of destroying the training ground which was never proved and which caused great animosity.

It was at or about this time invited by Southern Television to attend their Southampton Studios to take part in a live discussion about apartheid in South Africa.

Peter Hain , based in London and the national representative of the Anti-Apartheid League could not make the appointment and I deputised as his “stand in”. The two other panellists were Liberal MP ,John Pardew and someone called Enoch Powell who in the preamble before”going live” was charm personified.

Matters changed as we went “on air”, each gave our account until ,( and I give you my oath I am not making this up), I slipped off my seat when I challenged Enoch Powell with “Why was the entire “make-up” of the South African side comprised of white players? His response delivered with a straight face ….”It was a coincidence“.

Regaining my composure I challenged his logic , shamelessly he repeated  his assertion . Such was my first public encounter with entrenched racism and the man that gave us probably the most irresponsible allusion that “blood would flow like the Tiber” in Britain.

In subsequent years I participated in marches through Brixton and the East End with Tom Robinson and Rock against Racism  and was vilified by National Front and many “middle Englanders” in the neighbourhoods we paraded through.

My own opposition to racist South Africa was directly due to my mother who had a friend at teacher training college driven under physical threat of violence from South Africa for showing empathy with black South African children ; white South Africa was brutally repressive and until international sanctions and fear of Mandela and his fellow ANC brought about his release, township raids and massacres such as Sharpeville were the commonplace experience of black South Africans.

I thank Pat Murphy once more, not for spoiling the tributes and reverential outpouring, but for reminding our nation it was not an easily won campaign and many people both politicians and ordinary individuals  in Britain were often abused and demonised for speaking out against racial injustice  .

One wonders what the dignified Basil d’Olivera would have achieved had he and generations of black cricketers enjoyed the freedom to “walk to the middle” in South Africa without reference to race .

Basdil d’Oliveria like NelsonMandela both rose above  bitterness and raised the bar of human dignity by example .

I haven’t forgotten their journey . We should not forget or romanticise the injustice.

Steve Tomlin.

Dec 06 /13 corrected

Asthall Leigh

I am aware Basil d’Oliveria was described in the context of contemporary SA as “coloured” an offensive euphemism to allow white SA an ” excuse” to justify the margins of their corrupt apartheid.

Starting Back and parallel lessons

Have willingly distracted myself by total immersion in the Gloucestershire #badgercull it’s time to reflect on the parallel experiences and lessons to be learnt.

Both issues of #Climate Change and #bTB represent a failure to observe the warnings of good science in preference for political expediency and avoiding inconvenient truths.

Decades of research into bTB clearly demonstrated that pursuit of better animal husbandry and development of either vaccines or genetic resistant cattle breeding would be more efficacious , but lost out to a conviction politician personalised prejudices .Defra Minister Owen Paterson , claimed that science was “subjective” and he preferred to make “a judgement” on the issue of culling badgers.

Without any scientific endorsement he proceeded against all advice and failed abysmally to deliver his chosen strategy, refusing to acknowledge any criticism and continuing even now to persist against the tide of evidence and public approbation.

Like climate “deniers” Paterson refuses to admit of any body of scientific opinion .Interestingly the Independent Science Group ISG was disbanded to enable the new Minister an uncontested  platform for his “opinion” and finding singular support from the National Farmers Union who “recycled” easily repeated myths about badgers as primary vectors of bTB to avoid the reality poor bio-security and laxly regulated cattle movements were the more probable factor; but too difficult to implement without upsetting the farming community they represented.

Science was never going to overcome entrenched prejudice and “fact” was not penetrating deeply ingrained traditional explanations The extent of perturbation and the outcome of the failed #badgercull is yet to unfold but the divisive and bitter engagement of farmers and opponents is an exposed wound that may not heal easily if bTB increases.

Bovine tuberculosis it should be pointed out is only one of several cattle infections and relatively minor compared to issues of lameness, mastitis and Schoenberg’s disease . Not in anyway trying to ignore or diminish the wider problems of cattle farmers, but in terms of perspective, farmers need to address their own broader issues rather than be indignant when science illuminates the problems they complain about .

I believe the economic issues complained of by the agricultural industry and Government in relationship to bTB are of less import in reality than the need to “enable” our countryside to be utilised increasingly as a recreational hunting amenity where predation by native species is inconvenient and seen as disruptive  to commercial interests. Much of the incorporated cull zone had few dairy farms and the most vigorous supporters were the members of “hunting fraternity” . The much vaunted “ countryside” is increasingly sterile and devoid of traditional stoats ,weasels ,foxes and hawks that are systematically purged to avoid disruption to shooting syndicates.

The importance of stable  eco-systems is an argument of fragile inter-relationships that once disrupted mutate and do not always re-establish.We probably do not yet fully appreciate the consequences of our pursuit of managed, modified, rural eco-systems and our brutal indifference.

The climate deniers increasingly are identifiable as naked apologists for commercial interests  that are not prepared to either acknowledge the need to change our ways nor  prepared to discuss a committed “managed down” reduction of activity that would intimate we are rationally trying to avert environmental self destruction.

The commonality is the complete ignoring of available good science by government and commercial interests that have no commitment to change or adaptation to avoid the consequences of their indifference.  Our problem is… these commercial interests will take all of us with them .

Resisting the initial badgercull and it’s extension was relatively easy involving carefully applied non violent direct action to frustrate Defra’s planning. Opposing climate change is vastly more complex and of several greater magnitudes of scale.

One fears that it will be cataclysmic weather events and collapse of whole agrarian economic sectors that may provoke the understanding of the gravity of our position. Entrenched vested interests are not prepared to alter existing policies and practices for fear of losing market position to rivals .

Most governments are too preoccupied with short term existence and navigating today’s event horizon.

The one good lesson of the opposition to Owen Paterson’s badgercull was that dedicated and purposeful small groups can stand upto government at least in the short term. As for the longer term we shall have to wait and see if rational behaviour and science prevail over dogma and self interest.


Asthall Leigh Dec 04 2013

Contradictions …I’m as “country as you” ..a view from the #badgercull



This evening I will go to the Harvest Festival Supper in my village hall after reading the lesson in the local church ….. I am not a Christian……..afterwards I will drive straight away to continue the #badgercull  nightwatch at # Forthampton as the last week of the scheduled cull begins.

I live in the heart of the Cotswold farming community and have worked in the Gloucestershire countryside most of my life bringing up two children in the Stroud Valleys and  playing cricket for Sheepscombe on Laurie Lee’s ground overlooking the Slad valley …try being more Cotswold than that.

These days I write about climate change and environmental issues..

My point I am a countryman but not insular. I have travelled extensively but unashamedly always returning to my first passion the #Cotswolds and West Country.

To dispose of the church involvement. I love the theatre of evensong and like Phillip…

View original post 700 more words


Contradictions …I’m as “country as you” ..a view from the #badgercull


This evening I will go to the Harvest Festival Supper in my village hall after reading the lesson in the local church ….. I am not a Christian……..afterwards I will drive straight away to continue the #badgercull  nightwatch at # Forthampton as the last week of the scheduled cull begins.

I live in the heart of the Cotswold farming community and have worked in the Gloucestershire countryside most of my life bringing up two children in the Stroud Valleys and  playing cricket for Sheepscombe on Laurie Lee’s ground overlooking the Slad valley …try being more Cotswold than that.

These days I write about climate change and environmental issues..

My point I am a countryman but not insular. I have travelled extensively but unashamedly always returning to my first passion the #Cotswolds and West Country.

To dispose of the church involvement. I love the theatre of evensong and like Phillip Larkin *1 recognise that many of our ancient churches are repositories of a cultural history that’s far greater and often exceeds their tragically neglected state of repair and the last vestiges of rather poor Christian  attendance.

The harvest festival is a celebration of the rural economy and I refuse to be pigeon-holed or isolated in my community preferring to take the jibes and sharp humour that sees me as unusual and with unpardonable radical opinions; but I am as “country” as them and hold my independence and right to express a different perception of the countryside immutable.

Even to-days omnibus edition of The Archers on #BBC Radio Four has David Archer complaining about badgers in a very boorish simplistic way for trampling crops like some version of Armageddon , that increases the accepted negative view without any balanced  counter argument.

I am not a Christian despite being brought up in the Church of England as I am not a communist despite being surrounded as young man by the pantheons of socialism. I protest my right to be difficult and not easily labelled but I resent those in the rural community and organisations like the NFU who would gather the clothes of country people as disguise for their barely concealed commercial self interest that disregards Nature accept when it is a convenient prop to justify their authority. It has no substance and is fabricated pretence.

The NFU has come to the fore as a representative of a significant minority of farmers and trades in repeating unscientific half truths in the hope that by repetition they are more believable.

In one House of Commons Select Committee minutes the revelatory opinion is recorded that it will be hard to change the received wisdom within the farming community because the prevailing views are so entrenched .It is this engrained prejudice that  the NFU trades upon cosseting itself in its own self re-enforcing myths ,merchandising them like a product in concert with The Countryside Alliance that appears at every agricultural gathering to canvass membership fees in return for perpetrating the same recycled opinions  again and again in a closed loop of values .

Why do hard working farmers continue to allow this self deception ?   Probably because they work hard and are relatively isolated from contrarian views and challenges of the wider community. They might need to get out more!

Working hard is a virtue but not a divine trump card to squash other perspectives  and reason.

Holding shared views that feel comfortable and have persisted for many years without challenge reinforces farmers sense of connection within the community of other farmers and thereby their own sense of orientation within a system of values.

Asking awkward questions and holding unorthodox views doesn’t make you popular ….trust me I live in the middle of a farming community. Their primary defence for this insularity and conservatism is a self perpetuating group dynamic which the NFU feeds off to justify its own existence.

You are rarely favoured by those you purport to represent if you are critical or threaten the status quo  with fact based change.

My point  remains that we all have contradictions and that conflicting awkward ideas introduce an essential dynamism to a seemingly closed loop which the NFU at this time chooses to  perpetuate rather than explore the possibilities.

So badgers spread bTB , badgers are responsible for poor bio-security ,badgers  threaten our livelihoods. Repeat this mantra until science is silenced and what you end up with is the fiasco of a van load of Metropolitan Policemen, last Friday night, driving around the country lanes of Gloucestershire at the ratepayers expense reinforcing the prejudices of a Minister of State  against individuals who have sought to defend the scientific reality of bovine TB

I am exhausted  and need to sleep before I return to continue the last week of the resistance to this absurd and increasingly chaotic culling of badgers .

I just hope the humour in the village hall tonight remains within the bounds of common decency or someone might just receive the sharp end of a tired  badgerists thoughts. I hope not !!

Asthall Leigh  6 October 2013

In haste.

1.Larkin Church Going

Going with the territory…

#Liddell-Grainger’s 1* accusatory diatribe conducted against  opponents of the #badgercull  needs to be ignored for the unworthy cheapness of it’s delivery and the potential distraction it represents from the main trust of the protest against arbitrary culling.

If you choose to campaign against popular institutions and Government steeped in establishment tradition I’m afraid being over sensitive is an open opportunity for those, Like Liddell,  who have no reasoned sustainable argument to “take a swing at you”.

My own involvement as a committed environmentalist living in the middle of a Cotswold farming community has taught me that like “drunks”certain opponents have no capacity to be reasoned with and best practice is to avoid confrontation that only reinforces existing prejudice  and wastes your own energy .

I am not advocating avoiding awkward issues when standing up for matters you sincerely believe in or have investigated and decided to take a view that’s contrary to orthodoxy , but I see no point in arguing fruitlessly.

Classically #Owen Paterson has chosen to ignore best scientific opinion and pursues a policy that  only satisfies popular received wisdom within the farming  community. Paterson by insisting ,on the basis of his visit to New Zealand, 2*  that the only realistic solution to the serious issue of bTB within the U,K national herd  is a cull of the  native badger population.

Without repeating the well worn counter arguments in detail  the best research and science refutes the practicability and efficacy of his position, I am more concerned as his opponent how I focus my own energy and that of colleagues to  change his position.

The great advantage of those of us opposed to culling badgers is we have the considered science and research on our side whilst Paterson is a committed free-marketeer whose mantra is to release industry from constraint and allow de-regulation wherever and whenever possible.

Not to defend the Minister but rather to explain his obduracy I  think he genuinely believes  on the basis of an inner intuition that finds comfort in the  rather simplistic view that regulation and government intervention are anathema to creativity and enterprise. Without distracting myself I sympathise that bureaucratic systems and  overbearing regulation are sometimes irritating but, if you choose to live in a global economy within a complex society you are naive if you believe society can function free from regulation that provides order.

Taking this position further where one  very subjective matter of  opinion challenges another , rigorous science and thorough research can bridge the gap of differing opinion. Whilst science is not immutable ,when thoroughly peer reviewed and tested it offers a better determinant of policy direction than gut -view founded on  a repeated position that has no substance other than repetition  and having become a received wisdom . In the case of bTB the badger has become the subject of a historic prejudice isolated from other forms of wildlife and the demonised scapegoat of an industry often desperately floundering for a resolution to a problem that destroys  individual farming livelihoods and necessitates the destruction of whole herds.

However, Owen Patterson and #Defra have chosen to represent the issue of bTB not as a matter of concern but as isolated singular terrible disease that has only one solution, despite the availability of vaccines and the calls for a more balanced approach to improve bio-security and increase investment in a vaccine marker that would resolve European concerns . The minister and Defra do not address the issues of #Schmallenberg virus ,#Mastitis , #lameness  and #infertility in cattle herds with anything like the same public vigour or resourced determination.

Owen Paterson has chosen to persuade the farming lobby ,with the tacit support of the #NFU, that  only a cull will resolve the problem of bTB.

Using the best available science I have voiced opposition to the Government stance  and watched with horror the total lack of respect or consideration  for the established science .

In recent days, joining the “badger night-watchers” in Somerset, I have come to realise that the proposed scheme to roll out the cull nationally, as Paterson intimates is his preferred option, would be utterly impracticable in our countryside  given the scope of the local opposition. Even with the best efforts of  Defra it would require enforcement  by the police and possibly the army in a manner not witnessed since the  miners strike of the 1980’s.

I am convinced that Government cannot sustain such a scale of invested political capital at a time of economic difficulty and may have already seriously underestimated the power of regional public opinion which will become  magnified as the weeks  progress.

In the meantime the power  and volume of social media opposing Government reflects the strengthening position of  those resisting Owen Paterson’s increasingly frail arguments.

Campaigning against the cull it’s vital that “industry trolls” promoting the NFU and Defra stance are ignored and not encouraged to take up valuable energy engaging in argument, that has no purpose but to deflect and absorb the reasoned and scientific arguments opposed to the senseless cull .

It “might” have  been a tenuous justification if the culled badgers were subjected to post mortems but ,at this point in time they at merely being targeted to establish the best shooting methodology and their carcasses “abandoned “ignoring whether or not they are infected. Post mortemsch might have given the cull a vestige of scientific credibility but Defra have chosen to ignore even the obvious opportunity in their wisdom.

There will be many more interactions in the coming weeks but  science is opposed to the cull and whilst hardly soft -headed the  cull proponents are poorly misinformed and badly advised.


Asthall Leigh

September 9th 2013



2*where they have recently  “culled” the invasive possum,

Events and changing times …Massive #renewables programme

Events change circumstances when you examine matters from a historical perspective.

When you are immersed in the moment and confronting major political need for change the sheer scale of the challenge is daunting and immense .

From the comfortable distance of the historians examination of events it is always a narrative that changes and achieves or fails in its objectives in a seemingly inevitable manner that makes outcomes logical and clearly understandable , but not at the time.

Unlike theories of evolution that assume all development is a progression social and economic outcomes sometime reverse a pattern and matters revert rather improve .

Before the arrival of nuclear weapons and power generation it was only disease that could threaten massive destruction away from the battlefield and the distant knowledge of an ice age the only expression of Nature’s awesome cataclysmic  power that was capable of fundamentally altering our environment.

Industrialisation and population expansion since  the mid 1800’s has created market places and demand for consumer goods and processes of manufacture that have become totally dependent upon carbon based fuels to such an extent that it is now indisputable we risk totally polluting our bio-sphere and exhausting our planets natural resources without  seemingly having the ability to moderate either the velocity of that imminent disaster or the will to alter our behaviour consciously to avoid our potential demise.

I have previously discussed the reasons for our behaviour manifested in various forms of “denial” to avoid the reality of our terminal behaviour and as an expression of alienation or separation from Nature itself and do not propose to repeat that analysis , rather I am intrigued by how we will actually come to address our problems. Will  we be reduced to a reactive status in the face of a massive collapse and overwhelming socio-political environmental events that  have an uncontrollable momentum or do we find a pathway through what increasingly commentators identify as inevitable crisis if we remain in denial.

Science and technology have “managed away” or mitigated almost every obstacle  confronting the environment until the last fifty years when the sheer scale of consumption and population growth have outpaced our capacity to avert the consequences of our nihilistic behaviour.

History says “events” and developments will bring about changes but not necessarily without painful adjustment and it’s currently difficult if not  nearly impossible to predict where the political leadership will be found to bring about positive managed change . In this light it was extraordinary to listen to Lord King , scientific adviser to governments, out of nowhere state unequivocally earlier this  week that “we” must embark with total commitment to develop vast renewable solar energy without delay.

Given that politicians always talk up an idea for effect and often have little conviction in  their words Lord King’s statement was different in several important ways. Firstly he was and is a very much  establishment figure not given to hyperbole  and his words were unequivocal ……he made it very plain without a massive programme of solar and renewable energy investment on a scale not previously envisaged we have no chance to survive in the world economy and, the environment will race to 450 ppm of carbon triggering a worse case climate change scenario of such potential destructiveness that the actual outcome will not be manageable .

Nothing radically new that hasn’t been forewarned by  climate commentators  previously but this time by a leading scientific advisor with the ear of the Government and adamant that this must be on a massive scale and fast..

Extraordinary because the statement was unambiguous and unflinching ; it was clear and undiluted from a pivotal  force in the scientific community. Further it was unique in that it acknowledged publicly the threshold of 450 ppm  carbon in the atmosphere was now a reality.

Three years ago when I first wrote about the implications of increasing carbon  levels they were drifting above 350 ppm and scientific concerns warned that 400 ppm would be untenable . Lord King acknowledges we are rampantly out of control and can now only address the problem of future energy generation as a modern economy with a quantum change he identifies as an unparalleled massive investment  programme of solar energy beyond any previous projection.

Maybe this is the event that will change our thinking and behaviour and allow historians to reflect in the future that we turned from the abyss of our own destruction very late in the day,

Hopefully others will heed  Lord Kings prophetic  suggestion or other events will alter our history. It has become imperative that we understand that Nature is not just a commodity to be exploited but is our essential life platform to be valued above all  else before in exhaustion the consequences of our reluctance to act rationally by choice is removed by “events ” .


Asthall Leigh. August 4th -7th  2013