By Ian Dunt
The government's series of gaffes, U-turns and disasters continued today, when it pulled the plug on the controversial badger cull plan.
The decision to shelve the plans for at least a year will be celebrated by environmentalists, animal rights campaigners and many scientists, whose findings questioned whether the cull would succeed in limiting the spread of bovine TB.
"The government's handling of the badger cull has been incompetent and shambolic," Mary Creagh, shadow environment secretary, said.
"Labour has warned the government for two years that a cull was bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife, and it is right that it has been delayed."
Environment secretary Owen Paterson had to cut short a trip abroad to return home to announce the U-turn in the Commons this afternoon.
The decision follows a census which suggested badger numbers could be twice as high as previously thought.
That was a particularly galling statistic for the government, which faced the prospect of actually having spread bovine TB if fewer than 70% of the badgers were killed. If the cull fails to reach that crucial level, escaping badgers could spread the disease and increase cattle infections.
The first full debate on the cull – tabled for today in the Commons – could easily have resulted in a defeat for the government, which had to simultaneously deal with a legal challenge from the Badger Trust.
That combination of factors appears to have forced the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to put the plans on hold for at least a year.
Last year, 26,000 cattle had to be slaughtered, with £90 million of taxpayer money going to farmer compensation.
The U-turn is just the latest embarrassment for the government, which last week saw the resignation of Andrew Mitchell for swearing at police and a botched energy policy announcement.
Tory grandee Lord Tebbit recently branded David Cameron's administration a "dog of a government".
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By Ian Dunt
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