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banner Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Countryside meets seaside
It was unlike your normal political party conference fringe event, which generally includes a political player or two expounding on an issue of the day.

Nor does your usual fringe meeting include livestock, foxhounds or a specially decorated petrol tanker slap bang in the middle of it.

But the Working Country Fair, whose appearance on the Conservative conference fringe in Bournemouth was organised by Tory Central Office to highlight the need to "protect the countryside and preserve rural life", was different.

The "tax tanker", co-sponsored by the Road Haulage Association, Sun newspaper and a host of others calling for a cut in fuel tax, dominated the head of Bournemouth pier, site of the fair.

Around the tanker were market stalls selling farm produce - jams, sausages and scrumpy. Cementing the rural theme were pigs, prize sheep and foxhounds. Above it all, trad jazz from live band the Gentlemen of Jazz provided a surreal aural background.

The Countryside Alliance, which has been giving Prime Minister Tony Blair so much trouble over the government's on-off attempts to ban fox hunting and to give ramblers more rights, was much in evidence.

In fact, many of the people here had been at Labour's conference in Brighton the previous week - outside the security cordon, demonstrating against the party's policies.

Melissa Bingley, running the stall of pro-bloodsports magazine The Field, said: "We've demonstrated on all the marches and outside Labour's conference. It's nice to be invited to a party conference rather than shout from outside it."

Some of the foxhounds belonged to huntsman Peter Collins, of the Portman Hunt in Dorset. "All my life I've done nothing bar fox hunting," he said, "My dogs would have to be put down if fox hunting was banned."

A onetime London mayoral candidate was also at the fair. Not Steve Norris but Winnie the pig, a familiar figure to those based at Westminster due to her and her minder having camped for months outside the House of Commons.

"She may be seeking nomination for the general election," revealed her spindoctor. The issue Winnie would be highlighting at that coming poll was pig farmers' call for increased compensation for pigs lost in the latest swine fever outbreak.

"So there's every chance she'll find herself back in Parliament Square soon."

The Gentlemen of Jazz appeared to be the only participants who neither had it in for the government nor any connection with the Countryside Alliance.

"Last year we were Labour," revealed the trombone player. "We were at their conference then."

But it was not political differences that led the band to be here in Bournemouth this week rather than in Brighton last week. "We do them all, whoever hires us!"

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