I am not the Dr Richard North who works with Christopher Booker
A note, 5 December 2007
I shouldnt like it thought that I have a grudge against RN.
In fact, I very much admire his battling spirit. We are not very
alike, and the contrast is very far from being always or often in
Quite often people come up to me and congratulate me on some Europhobic
expose, or some damning of Whitehall officialdom, and assume that
I am the Richard North who works with Christopher Booker in denouncing
Readers of the Sunday Telegraph make the mistake very often, because
thats where the pair often write (and just for the record,
where I never have). This used to be very galling and in the end
I decided to change my name a bit. In 1995 I was reborn as Richard
D North and whilst some media presenters make a joke of it,
as though I was getting above myself, the new arrangement works
quite well. The confusion often remains, but I can get past it quicker.
It is odd to have a person who shares ones name, especially
when we have quite often overlapped in our journalistic interests
and when sometimes our approaches to the issues we cover look superficially
In particular, we have thought that most of the famous food scares
of the 1980s and 1990s were over-egged. Even more superficially,
it has looked more recently as though we were similar in being climate
Actually RDN is very different from RN.
In contrast with RN, I had a great deal of sympathy with the mainstream
official and political world as it dealt with scares, real or imagined.
I think it made chronic mistakes and not all of them were noble.
But I think they were very seldom very ignoble. I think most campaigners
and the media were far more at fault in scare-mongering than officialdom
was in countering it. Come to that, during many of the scares Labour
was in opposition and whilst oppositionalism makes fools
of almost all parties, Labour was especially awful and especially
inclined to jump into bed with scaremongers.
Coming to BSE, I was not even furious with the way the EU cut the
UK adrift. Why wouldnt it? One of the problems with the EU
is that it brands produce from any of its countries as being alike
in bad times as well as good. So the non-BSE countries were bound
to seek to get some distance from the British curse. Can we be sure
wed have stood beside, say, France in the midst of a similar
crisis? I dont mind if the UK comes out of the EU, but the
European Empires not being angelic is not a sufficient reason
to hate it.
Its not clear to me that the UK could have behaved very much
better or differently than it did. It was chasing a will of the
wisp, but it had to work on the best available assumptions, and
As to the BSE crisis in general, Id say that it was a genuine
and awful fright and that there remains some chance that it may
yet not have lost its sting. (We seem to have stemmed the flow of
fresh infection from animals to man, but there remains a scintilla
of anxiety at least that we havent seen the last of the human
consequences from very old infection.) I could easily imagine that
Labour were wrong to ban beef on the bone early in their first term,
and that things had at last become really silly. But that may be
my prejudice at work. In any case, I cant see what government
could have done before then.
However, I am tempted by the view that the industry would have
suffered less if ministers had never tried to defend it. There is
something to be said for a scare being allowed to produce an irrational
market collapse and a bout of consumer-led (or supermarket-led)
reforms to the supply chain. But its moot in the BSE case.
If we remember that the first, late 80s BSE in cattle scare died
down when the animal disease seemed to have produced no human victims.
It was only seven years later that there seemed to a human disease
consequence and all hell really broke loose. Even then, the public
quickly came to the conclusion and it seems right
that eating 1990s beef had no relation to whatever risk one might
suffer from having eaten 1980s beef.
(I make no pretence of understanding what the UK should have done
during the Foot and Mouth disaster.)
I am less concerned with the differences between RN and myself
on non-food matters because his arguments on matters such as speeding
and climate change seem more to be those of a bystander than of
a deeply-involved specialist.