Page 7, 27th February 1998

27th February 1998
Page 7
Page 7, 27th February 1998 — The countryside goes on the march

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The countryside goes on the march

THE COUNTRYSIDE will be on the march on Sunday and that itself will be a remarkable thing. There is no tradition in Britain for our rural areas to stir in this way. In France, the farmers take to the streets at the drop of a subsidy. Here there hasn't been real anger like this for generations. We are a docile lot the British. We grumble but we put up with most things. Now, almost universally, country people have had enough. What started as a protest against a ban on hunting has become a widespread revolt which involves almost everyone.

Of course the farmers are in an angry mood. The strong pound has meant that their income has been hit, as subsidies, calculated in ECU, have nose-dived in value. The special aids offered by the European Union have been refused by the government because they would reduce our rebate. It is galling for farmers to see Britain support special aid for the Irish and snub the offer for ourselves. Yet even this would be bearable if farmers felt that Whitehall had any interest in them. Instead they seem condemned to ever more costly regulation and restriction. At last year's Royal Show, the Ministry of Argriculture stand traditionally presenting a series of aids for farmers displayed only a collection of accusations. Pesticide use, sheep dips, food safety, farm safety, wildlife protection ... All admirable warnings but

together giving a wholly unsympathetic impression. No wonder farmers feel bereft and abandoned.

Nor are they alone. Butchers and caterers, publicans and restaurateurs can't serve beef on the bone even though the chances of a customer coming to harm are less than his winning the National Lottery twice. The kennel staff, the huntsmen, the vets, farriers, horse dealers, livery stables, saddle makers as well as the thousands who hunt and follow the hunt are all fearful and furious at the determination of the urban and the ignorant to ban country sports.

People who choose to drink unpasteurised milk or eat unpasteurised cheese are furious at reports that the Nanny State is to make them criminals. The money which used to go to the Rural Development Commission has been filched by the new urban dominated Regional Development Agencies. Ministers have threatened rural areas with yet more unsympathetic housing development. The Ministry of Agriculture is to be downgraded and the Right to Roam still remains a commitment. Swingeing tax hikes on petrol will hit the rural poor while the changes in grant circulation in the NHS and in local government have disadvantaged the shires yet again.

It is all these together which have led to a real feeling of exclusion. Country people know they are in a minority but they have relied on the forbearance of the majority and the urban understanding that countrymen and women knew best how to care for rural England.

Now that forbearance has turned to intolerance and that understanding to dictation. There is a new arrogance which animates the majority in and out of Parliament and to that the countryside will not submit. Nor indeed should any of us who values a free and liberal society. It is in defending the right to be unfashionable that we protect all our freedoms, Whether it is the freedom to be a Freemason or a Catholic, a vegetarian or a meat-eater, we dare not allow our choices to be restricted by the politically correct.

We may not like hunting nor drink green-top milk or eat T-bone steaks. Our personal preferences may be quite other but if we want them to be respected then we cannot but wish the Countryside March well.

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