The NPA celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. To mark this significant milestone, it is producing a series of articles looking back at what has been achieved for members over those years. Here, NPA Allied Industry Group chairman Hugh Crabtree recalls the extraordinary Parliament Square vigil, which started in February, 2000
The campaigning pig farmers and allied industry people – troublemakers, no doubt some would say – who had helped bring the plight of the industry into such sharp focus had to have a home in the newly formed National Pig Association. Thus it was that the NPA’s Campaigns Group emerged.
The market situation and the damage inflicted by BSE regulations led us to think about how we could make our case in a way that didn’t get knocked off the news when a better story came along. I don’t now remember exactly who came up with the vigil idea – but it wasn’t me.
Originally, we were to be located opposite Downing Street, which we thought would be a good pitch.
However, we ended up in Parliament Square, which turned out to be much better in terms of visibility. The NPA board was there on the first day, including John Godfrey and Jim Dewhirst. Also present was a pig named Cherie because a couple of wheelbarrow loads of her muck were delivered to No 10 for the roses. Cherie was bought by an animal rights group and sent to a sanctuary in Norfolk and was replaced by Winnie.
The pig had an arc and the pig farmers had a shelter, which got a bit ripe overnight as the minimum team of four people looked after our talisman pig and talked to the endless stream of MPs, well-wishers, activists, foreign visitors, passers-by and the Westminster Town Cryer.
We got our messages to MPs by setting up display boards. These were really effective and we changed them a number of times to keep the message fresh.
The socialite Tara Palmer- Tomkinson even spent a couple of hours on the stump and attracted a huge press corps.
The press coverage racked up and the vigil was mentioned in Hansard. The authorities in the House and the local council at Westminster didn’t like us but our protest was peaceful and effective. New Labour’s spin doctor Alistair Campbell called it the best political protest he’d ever seen.
The 2000 May Day anti-capitalist protests resulted in the vigil being temporarily stood down on the strict agreement with the Met that we could set up again but as that year’s Pig Fair approached, we decided to call it a day.
A total of 190 12-hour shifts involving farmers, allied industry staff and their families from all over the United Kingdom amounting to some 500 individuals and a back-up team of a couple of dozen people was, at the time, the longest protest seen in London.
The epitaph on the concrete block that was left in Parliament Square when we vacated the site read:
National Pig Association’s Parliament Square Vigil 3rd February – 8th May 2000
“She may be gone, she may be back – her demo days aren’t done.
Farmers’ protests get it right; Peaceful, just and fun!”