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banner Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
Hague rallies the countryside
The Conservative bid to wrap up the countryside vote continued apace on Monday as party leader William Hague gave up his evening to hold court at the Countryside Forum's bash on Bournemouth pier.

Mr Hague followed up his promises to regenerate the cities - made at a press conference earlier the same day - and pledged his party to turn round the countryside too.

Arriving to a standing ovation Mr Hague put into words the feelings of much of the audience when he said "the countryside is in chaos".

Police officers on the beat were seldom seem, crime was casting a shadow over people's lives, workers were leaving farming en masse, incomes were down and rural Post Offices were closing down, he said.

He pledged his party to fighting Labour's right-to-roam legislation in the Lords and decried plans to ban fox hunting as a "vindictive" attack on country sports.

In a generous concession the Tory leader ventured that not all the countryside's woes had not been created since 1 May 1997, but he was absolutely certain that Labour's spell in power had made things significantly worse.

"Farming and the countryside and much of rural way of life is now under threat as never before" - the source of the threat he then identified as an "arrogant out of touch urban dominated Labour government".

The government was, he said, "a metropolitan elite which has no understanding of the rural way of life and cares even less about the people who live there".

New Labour saw the countryside as a "rural version of the Dome rather than a real place where real people work and live" he added.

Spelling out his party's commitment to the countryside, Mr Hague said "honesty in labelling" would be brought in - ending the description of agricultural products as being made in Britain when they had only been processed or packaged in the UK.

Cutting crime in the cities would end the "exodus to the countryside" and ease pressures on the green belt.

Police numbers would be restored to the level left by John Major's government, and the Tories would commit themselves to ripping up more regulations than they put in place.

Having made his case the Tory leader left the packed room to his second standing ovation, and it was only conference's first day.

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