Conservative backbenchers will be wondering this morning whether they should bother replying to any letters from their constituents about any unpopular government policy. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is to announce today that the planned badger cull will be postponed following concerns about its mounting cost.
Defra is insisting that the delay, until next year at the earliest, is not a U-turn. This is accurate: the vehicle hasn’t turned around in the road, it has run out of fuel and ground to a juddering halt. Studies had found that there were perhaps twice as many badgers as originally estimated, and many farmers feared they would not be able to afford to kill 70 per cent of this much larger population.
This will be frustrating for Paterson, who is famed for his personal interest in badgers and TB, having tabled some 600 questions on the matter when in opposition. But it will be still more frustrating for backbenchers whose offices will have spent the past month sending hundreds of letters out to constituents in support of the badger cull. Some made what now appear to be savvy U-turns of their own: Tracey Crouch wrote in her local paper that she had changed her mind to oppose the cull and support vaccination instead, writing ‘I am personally pleased I undertook further consideration of this issue not just for animal welfare reasons, but based on the scientific facts’. She managed to send out letters to some campaigners to that effect, too.
For others, though, this is just the latest in a long line of government policies that they have given their wholehearted support to at a constituency level, only to wonder whether they should have bothered at all.