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Newspaper gets the interview it wanted – after 18 months

Margaret Beckett has ended her long silence and finally granted the Western Morning News an interview.

The rural affairs secretary this week spoke to the paper’s London editor, Jason Groves, about some of Britain’s most pressing rural concerns – 18 months after the WMN first requested an interview.

After failing to secure a question and answer session with the politician through the regular channels, the WMN decided to take the unusual step of calling her office every day.

And after ten days of requests and ten days of embarrassing coverage by the WMN, which described her department’s excuses, the paper was finally granted an interview.

During the two-hour interview Jason tackled the politician about issues including foot and mouth, the controls against illegal meat imports and the massive power of supermarkets.

Editor Barrie Williams said: “The WMN, which is known for its in-depth coverage of rural affairs, first requested an interview with Mrs Beckett in June last year, a few weeks after the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was created and she was appointed as Secretary of State.

“The request has been made at regular intervals ever since, but officials have always replied that her diary is ‘very full’.”

He added: “We should not have had to telephone her press officers every day for ten days to get the face to face meeting we wanted. To have held out for so long was bad manners, not to us, but to the people of the rural Westcountry who we represent and on whose behalf she ought to be working.”

During the interview Mrs Beckett told Jason that restoring prosperity to the British farming industry and the rural economy as a whole was a “top priority” and she would encourage youngsters to go into farming to be part of the future of the industry.

She also said that the decision to hold three inquiries into the foot and mouth crisis was the right one and their speed and independence justified the Government’s refusal to hold a full, open and accountable public hearing.

Barrie said: “It was like getting blood out of stone, but we finally got Margaret Beckett to talk to the rural Westcountry. Now she must act to help rural Britain.

“The battle to get this Government to take rural concerns seriously is a long way from being over. In fact, it has hardly begun.”

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