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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Anger in the countryside - does it matter?
With more foot and mouth cases emerging and the tourism trade in the countryside facing continuing difficulties, is frustration rising in rural areas?
Foot-and-mouth disease was the final nail in the coffin for many farmers who now say the countryside will not recover from the recent crisis. Many will receive compensation, but they say their incomes were already at an all time low, and many will now abandon farming completely.
Which of the three main parties can deliver for the rural voters? Do you feel the country is now divided between those who live in the countryside and those who live in towns?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
As a farmer myself, I can write with some authority. I can understand how the present system of subsidising food production in Europe is infuriating so many of you, but don't forget that as a part of Europe, we cannot be solely excluded from a fund that we will be paying into anyway. I feel strongly that as a nation we think of animal welfare standards as important and our standards are amongst the very highest. This is part of the reason that our costs are so high to produce a finished animal.
No farmer wants to have to rely on subsidies for a living but we have been left with no choice. If we were to leave the land and move into council accommodation and claim benefits as someone suggested, then someone else would take our place and claim those subsidies too. I cannot sell my beef animals for more than £500 each - that figure equates to 79 or 80 pence per kilo. Now do you start to see why farmers hate the supermarkets so much?
The farming community should stop whinging all the time about how hard done by it is. The Foot & Mouth crisis is a prime example - they criticise the government for their handling of the problem yet can't even agree with their own union or amongst themselves what the best course of action should be! They are lucky they are protected from the harsh consequences of the disease by compensation payouts. The miners, shipbuilders and steel workers Maggie threw on the dole had no such luxury.
The idea that animals are being culled in order to "rid the country of farmers" seems to me paranoid in the extreme. I can understand why farmers are upset, but let's be honest - the agriculture industry is responsible for many its current problems. Why should we subsidise it to the hilt? Farmers in New Zealand and Australia are amazed that we continue to farm sheep, for example, when they can do the job much more efficiently and effectively.
Anger in the countryside? You can bet your bottom dollar on it. In 1997 we elected a Labour government we trusted to deal with issues that would improve animal welfare - a speedy end to fur farming, improving the conditions of animals in farms and, the most obvious of all, banning hunting with hounds. What did we get? A Labour Government that ran scared of Tory-voting fox-hunting folk, and backed down to people that would never vote Labour in a million years. However, I will vote Labour again, and hope that Mr Blair lives up to his promise made on BBC's Question Time: "It will be banned".
Looking at this site, it is a tribute to the success of the Countryside Alliance's broadening into a truly effective and all-embracing rural pressure group that so many townies and anti-hunting fanatics take such trouble to try to present it as being nothing more than the old British Field Sports Society - and, even more amusingly, a kind of branch of the Conservative Party. Wake up and stop trying to deceive yourselves! The CA's huge success cannot be ignored by anyone who is not totally blinkered. My family has always voted Labour - but not any more. The Tories under Thatcher were not exactly countryside-friendly, but Blair & Co are positively hostile.
I live in the New Forest and am not a member of the Countryside Alliance. They do not represent the views of people living in the country, but represent a small minority of influential people who want to maintain their right to kill animals for fun. I hope that the Labour Party has the courage and conviction to stand up to them and bring an end to the anachronistic pastime of hunting with dogs. Then I can go back to enjoying the wonderful wildlife in this area without the threat of rampaging huntsmen and dogs scattering all before them, blocking badger sets and maybe never again will I see the horrendous sight of a fox being dug from its earth by some bloodthirsty hunters.
There's more to the countryside than farming. Whether you talk about agriculture, jobs, public transport or the price of petrol, the policies of perhaps the last 8 years have done more to harm the countryside and the lives of those who live in it than any other sector or region in Britain.
Very little will change for the countryside if this government gets in again, other than an increase in house building, and a slow decline in the amount of land under cultivation and management. Labour is systematically raping the British countryside so that it may increase its power base among the wealthy 'chattering classes' who care not what happens as long as they can wear their green wellies, drive a 4x4 to town, and walk the Labrador to the local, but few and far between 'country pub'.
Before the embers have even cooled, British agriculture is planning action against the proposed 20-day standstill on animal movements. This is being brought in to safeguard against such a disaster happening again, and infected livestock being distributed countrywide, with some sheep being moved 4 or 5 times in one week. They also have the nerve to suggest that pigswill should not be banned. If these compensation cheques had not been so over-inflated, they may be a little more reluctant to go down the same road again. Why should the British tax payer be expected to pick up the tab for all these farming blunders? Agriculture has to be overhauled and if it takes a Labour Government to do it, so be it.
Here in the north-east, the only things in the fields are "vote Conservative" posters. Farmers know they haven't a hope of getting a fair deal from Labour, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the government continues to needlessly slaughter animals in order to rid the country of farmers. All the townies who visit rural areas must have forgotten that without the livestock, most of the countryside will revert to scrub and woodland because there are no animals to graze it. There would be no farmers to maintain dry stone walls. Without hunting, the hedges and woods of the countryside would never have survived. People talk about scaling down farming, but we still need to eat. Farming is not like coalmining. The whole countryside depends on it. Governments must realise this by helping farmers rather than persecuting them. Cash handouts are useless. Farmers want to be able to sell their products and make enough to live on.
When this country can no longer feed itself, it will be too late to regret the ignorance and hatred of the urban Labour left for farmers and our rural heritage. Unable to feed ourselves and reliant upon imported food with no say in the hygiene and welfare standards involved in its production, we will reap what is being sowed and we will thoroughly deserve it.
Subsidies exist because consumers would not pay enough for produce in order for farmers to make a living. Cheap produce from abroad, made with little or no thought for welfare and supermarkets with their monopoly power have crippled the countryside. People take for granted the bigoted, half-truth images of the countryside that are forced on them by a biased pro-government media. People fail to realise that there is a lot more to rural life than the media show. Subsidies, livestock production, field sports, foot and mouth, all are important issues that are more complicated than people think.
I own sheep and have never claimed a subsidy from the government. However, I own the land and maintain the public rights of way at my expense. I feel that either rights of way should be removed or paid for either on a usage basis or generally, as budgets are set for roads etc. I feel that people who use the countryside for pleasure should contribute to its maintenance. I know some organisations like the bridle ways groups and the BHS do, but ramblers do not appear to contribute to the upkeep. To pay for food and contribute to the upkeep of the countryside would not be too radical - after all people pay for the gym to get their exercise.
George Humphreys, Tring
The problem is government interference in the countryside. Leave the countryside alone, let it take its own decisions and it will get on with the job.
There is no single division between what there is in the rural areas and in the towns. We are all for one and one for all. I mean, the cows moo and the people moan - zero difference!
Farmers have always complained of poverty yet surprisingly few of them deserted it to make their fortunes elsewhere. They are NOT special - merely an industry that deals in livestock and crops. They are more heavily subsidised than the rest of British industry put together. No wonder that public sympathy is at an all time low for them. If they cannot make their industry profitable and productive (without subsidies) then perhaps it is time for them to go the way of the miners, steel workers, clothing manufactures etc.
Darlo Mick, Darlington,UK
I agree with Mick. Us townies have not only subsidised the countryside through agricultural policy, but we have also subsidised it through prices of things like electricity, water, gas, council tax, road tax ad infinitum. If it wasn't for cities and large towns, the cost of setting up the above services and maintaining them in the countryside would be prohibitive.
Much as you would like to sympathise with farmers who are going through such a hard time, I'm afraid that the years of subsidy are finally coming home to roost - it's just that us townies find it hard to understand an industry that gets subsidised for growing things or subsidised for not growing things - how nice that must be. If any other industry was mollycoddled in this way, the entire country would be bankrupt. Farmers have had this coming for years and although there are some real losers, they only have themselves collectively to blame.
Civilisation is by its very nature the subjugation of the food producers for the needs of the city - and necessarily so, for farmers, when left to their own devices, will only produce food for themselves and their families. This is not to say that food producers should not receive a fair deal. However, those who choose to sneer at and deride "townspeople" should revise their history of human civilisation.
I am country born and bred, living on a small farm. It is a myth that we all belong to the Countryside Alliance. In fact I feel ashamed that I am classed into that group like a good many other country dwellers. Foxhunting is outdated and I hope that the Labour Government puts pay to it! As for Foot and Mouth, farmers are inflicting pain on farmers by their total disregard for disinfectant. Compensation has been paid over the odds: there is no incentive to be extra careful, together with this element which are waiting for their jackpot to come up! If anyone thinks that this Government has been hard on the farmers, they need to know how many millionaires have been made during these last 11 weeks.
Well said, Maureen of Wales. The true voice of rural Britain at last.
The Countryside Alliance are an unrepresentative bunch of pro-hunting Tories. Their only principles are the right to slaughter at will and to receive state aid in the form of farming subsidy. If they were all as poor as they say, how come they can afford to come to London to march through our streets? Are these the same landowners that try to block paths to ramblers? What are they doing down here then?
The countryside issues will not determine the result of election because Labour could lose all their rural seats and still will because of their support in the cities and suburbs. At least after the election they might get rid of MAFF and replace it within something that will look after the whole of the rural community and not just be a poodle for subsidised farmers.
To say that this government has 'has set about destroying the countryside' is pure rubbish. It's just a cliché that's been invented by the Tory-leaning sections of the media and foisted upon their gullible readers. Can anyone think of one reason why a government would want to destroy the countryside? Stop reading the Daily Mail and get in touch with reality.
It's a tragedy that real rural concerns have been hijacked by the pro-blood sports lobby. So long as rural residents fail to get a proper voice and are instead tarred with the reactionary Countryside Alliance brush, many people who love the countryside will be loath to support the farmers and people living in the countryside.
The Countryside Alliance has always been an unconvincing pressure group that seems to attract the gullible in support of the unspeakable, in pursuit - in the foxhunting debate, at least - of the uneatable. Given the fact that agriculture has to be subsidised to the tune of around £3bn each year, how do these whingers find the time or money to go around disrupting the nation's business (which pays for theirs) on such a regular basis? When we have a referendum on the euro, can we also have one on getting a refund for the taxes that support these ingrates?
Ever since Tony Blair's government was elected in May 1997, it has set about destroying the countryside. Under Labour, council tax and petrol tax have risen, not to mention the others. These two taxes have hit the rural population like one of John Prescott's punches. Many people in rural areas depend upon the car and they have seen petrol tax rise year after year under this government. Why does this government think that there are so many countryside protests? People don't block fuel depots for fun. People do these things because they are poor, and are sick to the back teeth of the way New Labour overlooks the problems of the countryside and treats them like second class citizens!
Phillip Porteous, Cumbria, UK
I live in a semi-rural constituency, a safe Tory one at that, yet I completely disagree with Mr Porteous's belief that the Labour Party set out to destroy the countryside. Does he really believe that Tony Blair and his cabinet sit down and say "right, let's devise a policy that will destroy rural Britain." It's ludicrous, but part of the pernicious conspiracy theory scare mongering by those who have never come to terms with the idea or the reality of a government that isn't Tory. Perhaps Mr Porteous and those of his ilk with selective memories might like to recall the Tory mishandling of the BSE debacle, the planned privatisation of the Post Office, and the closure of more local police stations and section houses than has ever occurred before
Is there really a significant division between the 'townies' and the 'country folk'? Are we so weak as to let a measly green belt separate us? Yes we all have our differences and foibles, but we live in one country for god sakes, the difference can't all be that much.
Rural votes will matter somewhat, as it was lack of support in the rural heartlands which turned a defeat into a rout for the Tories last time round. A recovery in the rural Tory vote demands that farmers blame Labour for foot and mouth disease, and forget that farming has been in decline for 15 years, accelerated by BSE which was massively exacerbated by Tory policies at the time. So, short memories required. A shoe-in for Hague in the countryside, then.
Guy Chapman, UK
I think there is a distinct pattern of ideas amongst the mostly town-dwelling MPs in the way they view the countryside. This is particularly marked in the Labour party who seem to be stuck in a time warp of resentment, that because miners lost jobs then farmers don't matter. There is also a real and serious issue about the many people who grow up divorced from the realities of nature and succumb to propaganda from animal rights groups. The latest campaign from these well-funded groups is aimed at schools telling people not to drink milk because it's about cruelty to animals. This comes on the heels of a number of serious attacks with letter bombs including a fish and chip shop! Animal Rights groups gave the Labour party £1.1m, funded the offices of certain leading ministers and are still giving large sums of money to the Labour party. Country people do right to be concerned: if anything, they are being far too passive given the arrogance and deception of this Govt.
The claim that the current Labour Government is 'anti-countryside' is ridiculous. It is a false perception that has developed because of spin and propaganda from the blood-sports lobby who are only interested in their own selfish goal - the continuation of foxhunting. The real needs of most rural people are more or less the same as those of their urban cousins. Look back at old copies of 'Farmers' Weekly' from the time when the Tories were in power and you will see headlines little different from today - 'Farming faces crisis' etc. I have never voted Labour in my life, but I probably will this time just to show that not everyone living in the West Country is a rabid, pro-hunting Tory!
Terry Sessford, Somerset, UK
I know, let's move all the farmers into housing estates in depressed urban areas and take away their subsidies. Then we can give them different subsidies, called benefits and tell them that they don't have to work anymore. They can have their rent paid and have central heating and fitted kitchens.
I am a rural dweller. I am not a farmer, I do not hunt, I work for a living, I don't have a new 4x4, I do not claim subsidies so that I can afford a 4x4, I do not think that the country owes me a living no matter what I do.
Tell me how I am different to a "townie"?
All I want is a government that taxes fairly, spends wisely, plans carefully and acts decisively. Someone who tells the truth, and acts with integrity. Someone who treats all society with the same respect.
Am I being unreasonable?
When are rural communities such as North Norfolk to be relieved of the burden of increased Council Taxes that support the wealthy who can afford second homes there? When is Labour going to abide by the promises it made on restricting periods when caravans can take to the road (plus several other caravan policies mentioned in its previous manifesto?)
Caravans on roads in this area cause us to be late for work or increase our travel time/petrol consumption. Our wages are low, but the costs are too high.
Rural issues are becoming irrelevant to the country. The public's perception of the countryside is distorted by the uneducated press and MAFF. The government depends upon MAFF and other civil service departments for advice, which is normally overpriced, and out of date.
I'm amazed that the Government is constantly criticised for being 'anti-country' and, more particularly anti-farmer, given the amount of public support that is poured into agriculture - more than all other industries put together. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the dependency culture is alive and well in rural Britain.
The debate on the countryside appears to be aimed primarily at "Middle England". It seems that everything is aimed at pandering to large scale farmers (most of whom don't have to worry about where their next 4X4 is coming from) and wealthy townie commuters with a NIMBY attitude. Economically, the majority of country dwellers are more concerned about security in terms of employment and affordable housing. The problems of economic deprivation are as prevalent in parts of our beautiful countryside as they are in the worst inner-city sink estates. Maybe you can call me a cynic from a big city, but my roots are in rural England which I have had to leave in order to survive. A thriving economy can not be built upon low paid farming and service sector jobs alone.
Let's face it, most of the population live in towns or cities. As this is where the votes are, politicians can afford to neglect the countryside without risking too much of a backlash.
I have heard the charge that 'Labour doesn't understand the country', but can someone explain what countryside dwellers want that is different from everyone else? Or is this just a code for 'we want to carry on hunting foxes and receiving large subsidies'?
Andy, Chester, UK
It's time we recognised that the only real difference between urban people and rural people is that the former live in towns and the latter live in the countryside. There is no significant genetic difference between the two groups and thanks to the information age most of us have experienced similar social influences. Why is a division being created where none exist? If anyone still insists that there is a difference, please at least give me the formula you are using to separate people so I can decide which group of people I belong to.
Isn't it strange how so called "townies" seem to think that the people living in the countryside are all farmers. The vast majority are normal working people who are contributing just as much to Britain as townies. However the townies have a hang up that they are the only ones producing wealth. David E Flavell lives in a different world (alongside most of this Government)if he really believes that country dwellers all wear white frocks and have bells attached to their ankles. Country folk do have minds, they do work in "normal" industries, and Governments ignore their influence at their peril.
Peter Hamblin, Berkshire, England
I do think the general anti-agriculture tone of the posts to this forum so far seem to say more about the nature of web users than about the true feelings of the populace on this issue. What do we care about the countryside? We've got internet access!
The foot and mouth crisis is an unfortunate situation which any of the parties would have struggled to deal with competently - it shouldn't be used for political point-scoring. Why can't the parties work together on this?
It's clear from the latest crisis that the countryside needs the townies. The tourist industry needs us for our trade - the farmers expect us to bail them out continually. What is less clear is whether the townies need the countryside. Frankly it makes no difference to me whether the supermarket stocks food from Normandy or from Norfolk. Under these circumstances country people have to realise that the townies don't owe them a living any more and that we're fed up of them marching around demanding handouts.
David E Flavell, Liverpool, UK
Clearly it's time for those in the farming industry to realise that farming costs in this country are too high to ever make mass production farming feasible. Instead of trying to kid themselves that this is the case they should concentrate on the expanding market for high quality organic and free-range products which have the margins to make farming pay.
The overwhelmingly Tory "countryside alliance" have used the F&M disaster as a party political weapon against the left.
The government is paying out compensation to the farmers but still they moan. Will the steel workers in South Wales get such generous treatment from this Labour government?
How could anyone maintain sympathy for a bunch of barbarians whose idea of fun is to watch one small animal torn apart by a pack of other small animals?
David Chamberlain is absolutely right. I don't deny that there is hardship in rural areas, but there are depressed urban areas as well which are not given subsidies to help them out when they run into trouble. Millions of people in the UK now work on short-term contracts that make planning for the future rather difficult yet nobody seems bothered about helping them when a company decides that its employees are indispensable. Farming practices need to be drastically scaled down; this isn't the 1950s anymore. Unfortunately that will mean testing times for some in rural areas, but not for everyone by any means.
I think we should move towards local production for local need. Just 20 years ago, our local farms used to produce milk for the local dairy and fields used to produce food. With consumer capitalism and globalisation on the rise, small farmers are being squashed by big supermarkets while airports are being expanded to increase the amount of cargo planes bringing in cheaper produce from the other side of the world. Yet our food doesn't taste any better and it's not any cheaper. Only the Greens are addressing globalisation and I will vote for them. A Green vote is a vote for the countryside.
Although Suffolk is a very rural county, the vast majority of people living here are not farmers and have no direct connection with the land. The only farming issue that concerns us is subsidies. In this heavily arable farming area, the cereal barons continue to rake in the cash courtesy of the taxpayer and the CAP. Around here we have an old country saying - "you never see a farmer on a bike". It is time that the farming industry was made to stand on its own two feet, so that taxes can go towards health care, education and other public services instead of lining the pockets of the wealthy landowners.
I believe that Tony Blair has made the rural community into the chaos that it is today. I think Tony Blair and MAFF should be kicked out of the House of Commons.
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