BACK IN the dim and distant past when I studied economics, there was a big focus on Keynesian theory.

A British academic, John Maynard Keynes, came up with the idea that public spending could drive economic recovery. He described this as the multiplier effect, on the basis that public spending was multiplied into jobs to drive recovery.

This thinking was given a new boost in the Ronald Reagan era, when it was re-branded trickle down economics. However like most economic theory, the facts get in the way of a good story. To have an impact, public spending needs to be significant and speedy. This is not the nature of big infrastructure projects. It is a race against reality – like putting water into a bath with the plug out, in that it takes a lot going in to have an impact.

Despite that, Boris Johnson launched his version of spend, spend, spend this week, claiming it would head off recession. He stuck the term 'great' in front of a now close to a hundred-years-old economic theory. He ignored the fact that his spending plans are modest in relation to the scale of the challenge – and that even those modest plans will pile up more debt. It is also a low skills solution when real recovery demands high-tech solutions.

Time will tell whether this revamping of Keynesian economics can work. For now it looks to be more about spin than substance. It is a shame the opportunity was not taken to think out a new working of this old theory. That could have been around targeted funding at key industries rather than high profile infrastructure projects. Economic activity has a lot to do with the value added concept. If, for example, infrastructure projects are built around imported labour and skills their impact will be limited. One of the flaws of all economic thinking is that it does not exist in a vacuum.

Farming adds value to indigenous resources and its multiplier effect is to help create a food industry that has a guaranteed demand for its products. Yet in the brave new world of economic recovery, farming rarely gets a mention. The focus is no longer on food production or even food security. Instead it is is on trade deals that will free up markets, with cheap food a by-product of that process.

The leave campaign of 2016, led by Johnson and Michael Gove, made much of the benefits for farmers of escaping the CAP. The promise then was of a progressive, productive industry. Today farmers, certainly in England, are being offered a future greener than anything Brussels has in mind for the CAP. Food production has been discounted by politicians, whose focus groups tells them there is more interest in the environment. That ignores the fact that environmental delivery is a closed loop, while food production is the foundation of an industry and a thriving countryside.

This might all sound churlish when the government has promised a new Farming and Food Commission. But there is now a danger the farming lobby and others behind the campaign against imports that do not meet UK standards will see this as a victory to savour. That may be the case in the media, but the farming and food industry need to think about what they have actually secured – they have a promise of a new body with fewer powers than the average quango. It is in danger of being another talking shop. Without legislation a commission is just another advisory body that ministers may or may not heed.

They will listen, make the right noises but ultimately claim trade deals are about wider gains for the economy. This is what the European Commission did with the Mercosur trade deal with South America. The legal posturing by member states has stopped that deal for now, but there will be no similar fallback in the UK.

Cheap imports are about principle and not just the products that grab headlines. This new body must not divert the industry from the key issues. Policy cannot be about the government agreeing a ban on hormone treated beef and chlorine washed chicken. All our farming standards must be the foundation for trade. Agriculture must be seen as a potential driver of economic recovery and not as an industry to be bought off with funds for green delivery and another meaningless talking shop.