Morris dancers demand apology from minister after 'clumsy' phrase
He has angered badger groups, green energy proponents and both sides of the hunting debate.
But now Defra Secretary Owen Paterson has picked a his toughest battle yet – against the Westcountry's morris dancers.
Outraged morrismen and women across the region have demanded an apology from the Government minister after he twice mentioned he'd invented a new concept in the increasingly complex debate about reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and he'd called it "a morris dancing filter".
Many farmers – especially big agri-businesses – are not happy about the possibility that some of their subsidy will be moved by the EU's CAP reforms from money paid direct to farmers to more generic rural development and environmental schemes that the Government or other bodies think are worth financing.
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Mr Paterson was trying to reassure those farmers that the money they now have and perhaps won't get, won't in future be "wasted" on apparently frivolous rural-based schemes or projects like morris dancing.
Twice at the Conservative Party conference he referred to his new turn of phrase. Once, he said: "What I also want to put in place is what I call a morris dancing filter.
"There have been mistakes in the past and I want to make absolutely sure they are good schemes that deliver good worthwhile projects that are good for the economy and good for the environment," he added, appearing to imply that morris dancing was neither.
Word spread among the Westcountry's morris dancing rings and an apology has duly been demanded.
Julia Catovsky, the secretary of the Somerset-based Treacle Eater clog troupe, said Mr Paterson's choice of example devalued their hobby and wrote to the minister.
"Many of our members have been morris dancers for 30-plus years and we are saddened that you have used the term in this derogatory manner to imply wasting funds on inappropriate rural projects," she told him.
"The 10,000-plus morris dancers in this country of all ages and from a wide range of backgrounds, both rural and urban, receive no funding from either the UK Government or the EU subsidy in pursuance of our minority sport.
"We feel that morris dancing is an important part of our British heritage and that this term sheds a negative light on an activity which is enjoyed by a large number of people, causes no environmental damage and is often in support of charitable causes.
"Please would you find another term to promote your better use of UK Government/EU subsidy? An apology for what may at best have been a clumsy choice of words would seem appropriate," she added.
Not since the then Labour Government minister for the arts, Kim Howells, remarked in a Commons debate about live music licensing that he "couldn't imagine anything worse" than a folk trio playing in a Somerset pub – and was then ambushed by The Wurzels on a visit to Bristol the next day – has a minister's remark caused such outrage among the Westcountry's cultural bastions.
Jed Dunn, the Morris Ring representative for the South West and West, added: "Can Mr Paterson say exactly what he thinks a 'morris dancing filter' is, and would he mind if we introduce a 'Mr Paterson filter' into our dancing? I expect he thinks this was a throwaway line. Like so many politicians today, he speaks without any thought whatsoever."
And Ray King, a morris dancing veteran and past squire of the Morris Ring, said: "I'm quite appalled by the slur on morris dancers implied by Mr Paterson. Firstly, we receive no government or EU money whatsoever.
"Perhaps if some money were sent our way, we might have some fitter young people around. And secondly, how can he be so ignorant as not to recognise that the morris is part of Britain's culture and heritage."