They don’t understand the countryside’s economy, culture or people. The New Labour years were a 13-year frustration for those in rural areas – at each turn, rural issues were neglected at best or trampled at worst. For many farmers the disconnect developed into farce in 2009, when the Brown administration appointed as Farming Minister Jim Fitzpatrick, who is a vegetarian. Given the struggles already faced by many pastoral farmers, it seemed like adding insult to injury.
Labour’s war on motorists hit rural areas hardest. For those who live outside the towns and away from the most accesssible and reliable public transport networks, their car is often a lifeline – required for work, shopping and access to wider society. But the Labour years saw hike after hike in fuel duty, as well as a more general attack on motorists through parking charges, for example. George Osborne’s repeated freezes of fuel duty have saved every motorist hundreds of pounds – but Labour are now refusing to rule out increases in the tax if they win the election.
Their 2015 manifesto doesn’t even mention the word “countryside”. Not once. Even “farm”only appears a total of once in 86 pages. The millions who live in and look after a huge swathe of the nation don’t even merit Labour’s attention at election time – what chance of them being paid any attention if Labour get in?
They won’t accept a free vote on hunting. The hunting ban was motivated by misconceived class warfare, and as a result the legislation is barely up to the job for which it was intended. David Cameron hasn’t pledged to whip its repeal, he has rightly said that his MPs would be free to vote with their conscience and their constituents on the matter – and yet at the slightest mention of a free vote Labour lose their rag.
They still think the rights of towns should trump the rights of rural areas. While the Conservatives explore new ways to encourage local authorities and residents to negotiate on and agree new development, Labour openly intend to trample the rights of the rural population. They now propose a “right to grow” which will allow more urbanised local authorities to force their rural neighbours to accept their expansion by new building, even when it is the rural council which is the planning authority. In practice this would be disastrous for both local democracy and housebuilding, stomping on one and deepening rather than reducing opposition to the latter. The measure shows Labour’s underlying instinct about the countryside – it doesn’t matter.