Over uncomfortably many years of political life, I have come to understand that there is such a thing as “the story”.
Just as there’s a fashion for mini skirts one year and long dresses another, so there are fashions in the national media – only these tend to last for days or weeks rather than months or years. Every journalist in Britain (or anyway almost every journalist in Britain) gets interested in “the story” of the day – and we are off to the races.
Often enough, these stories interest the journalists (and sometimes the politicians) a great deal more than they interest the public at large who tend to be pretty sensible and know a storm in a teacup when they see one.
But sometimes “the story” is genuinely something that everyone in the country is talking about – and I have the strong sense that the horse meat saga (which is certainly “the story” just now, not only in Britain but around Europe) has grabbed the imagination not just of the media and Westminster but actually of people all over the country.
There is something particularly unsettling about the feeling that one doesn’t know what one is eating – and it is even more unsettling if one has reason to believe that the reason why one might be eating something one didn’t expect is that a criminal gang had put it there.
So this quite a large cloud. But, like other clouds, it may have a silver lining.
I think I have noticed a distinct increase in the trade at butchers. I’d be very interested if any butcher reading this column in the Bridport area can testify that either my anecdotal experience is borne out by their figures or otherwise. If it is happening, I wouldn’t find it surprising – because one of the great advantages of going to the local butcher to buy your meat is that you can see what you are getting with your own eyes.
Of course, supermarkets do a remarkable job of providing high quality food at affordable prices. But what they can’t do is to give the customer the processed meat product the direct, first hand inspection that every customer gets when they buy fresh meat.
I wonder whether, once the regulators and police across Europe have tracked down and eliminated this scourge, we are going to be left with the rather happy result that more people buy more of their meat from local butchers and hence, in many cases, from local farmers.