Labour remembers only too well the action mounted by, amongst others, farmers, who came close to bringing the country to a standstill over the issue of Fuel Duty the level of which was making transport and farming activity uneconomic. There are plenty of them now in power who know a thing or two about bring the country to its knees through targeting fuel supplies and the fact that the forces of reaction had also learnt a thing or two about it gave them a nasty fright.
But two recent developments remind us that Labour has not forgotten the countryside or that it can be milked hard for some serious cuts in public services that Labour heartlands might be protected from the coming downturn in the economy.
It may be recalled that at the last election Labour gave a clear promise not to allow any more rural school closures. We now know, of course, that Labour’s ‘manifesto pledges are not subject to legitimate expectation’ (Trans. ‘our manifesto is lies, damn lies and absolute whoppers from end to end’), so it will come as no surprise that a huge programme of such closures is in fact underway.
The damage such closures causes is far greater than would be the case in a town or a city. It removes a living heart from the village in which the school may be a major focus of employment and community activity. Inhabitants now have to travel miles extra to get their children to school which puts further strain on the pockets of everyone but especially the poorer villagers and adds (in term time) every day, twice a day, to traffic congestion and pollution.
The children themselves learn at an early stage a sense of detachment from the community in which they live and thus their ties to the countryside are weakened, making it more likely they will soon enough migrate to the towns and cities. In every way the village is thus impoverished. But, cuts must be made, so why not in rural tory-voting areas: no votes will be lost and large amounts of Council tax can be diverted to education in more marginal town and city seats where every vote may count. Village life and its economy can go hang.
Then you have DEFRA, a whole new exercise in turning the countryside into a themes museum. It is headed by one Hilary Benn who is only slightly dotty (unlike his father who is very dotty) who is a vegetarian and thus unlikely to have much comprehension of or understanding for the livestock industry. It has so bungled its activities that it is having to make deep cuts to pay for the hefty fine imposed by the EU for making a complete pig’s ear of the farm susbsidy scheme imposed by the that alien body. So badly handled was the scheme that Tony Blair felt constrained actually to sack a minister for presiding over a shambles (which tells you how bad it was), though Gordon Brown has snuck Lord Bach under the radar and into the Lord’s Whips office which just shows you that incompetence has its just desserts under Labour.
The latest squeeze is to be put on rural policing. A report by HM Inspector of Constabulary has recommended that the present means of allocating funds to policing be scrapped and that in future more funds be diverted, in effect, to police forces in Labour’s urban heartlands at the expense of rural forces on the grounds of diverting funds where they are most needed, as if we in the country somehow do not suffer crime and have no need of police officers. Labour will, of course, swiftly seize on this report as an excuse to strip the countryside of what little protection it currently has so that it can point to extra police in the towns and cities where marginal seats might be found.
Of course the Tories have not been immune to this process: the Thatcher years undoubtedly saw a managed retreat of the police from rural areas much as the armies of Rome must have gravitated back to the centre as Rome in the West tottered. It was a process which began with the Police Act 1964: I can recall the amalgamation of Huntingdonshire’s police force with that of Cambridgeshire about then which produced an abortion called ‘Mid Anglia Police. Then they abolished Huntingdonshire and so renamed it ‘Cambridgeshire Police’. Almost immediately upon reorganisation village bobbies began to disappear and police houses to be sold off.
Nature abhors a vacuum and over the next forty years the criminal fraternity moved to fill it so that the evils of car theft, dwelling house burglary, equipment theft and the like were now visited upon us. The State meanwhile had effectively abdicated responsibility. And when the likes of Tony Martin elected to sort Chummy out for himself, he found himself on a murder charge for whacking a member of the criminal fraternity who had come aplundering.
Now rural communities are to be further abandoned by the State without any commensurate compensations. If you seek urgent help it will have to come from further and further away: you will be lucky to get such help for it will be engaged in the fruitless exercise of trying to stem the tide of drunkenness brought on by Mr. Brown’s 24/7 drinking culture and the offences of violence and public disorder that it brings in its wake.
No wonder the rural community became politicised when its traditions were assaulted by bigoted Labour class-warriors, giving rise to the Countryside Alliance which has done so much to help raise awareness of such issues, winning lately a prize for its achievement in Channel Four’s Political Awards (through a certain amount of gritted teeth, it has to be said, on the part of the luvvie intelligentsia who nearly choked collectively on their foie gras when the award was announced). As this politicisation has given rise to a new and youthful set of campaigners, some of whom will campaign in marginal constituencies between now and the next general election, Labour may yet rue underestimating the political power and sophistication of rural folk.
That would be no surprise, since, as I said at the outset, Labour does not understand the countryside, thinking us to be strawheads to be led like so many cattle. Hopefully the next election will reveal the unwisdom of taking us thus for granted.