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Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Can we cure the countryside?
All three major parties have now laid out their policies for rural areas. Labour plans a Department of Rural Affairs headed by a new cabinet minister, and a shake-up of the Common Agricultural Policy.
The Liberal Democrats call for a similar new ministry, and for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Farming to be abolished, after what they say was an ineffective response to the foot and mouth epidemic.
William Hague's Conservative manifesto promises "practical steps" to encourage foot and mouth recovery, and a re-negotiated CAP.
But do any of these policies go far enough for a countryside in crisis? Will a new ministry be an improvement? Will a cabinet minister give the countryside a stronger voice?
It seems ridiculous that we continue to fund the farmers who complain about the price of fuel, yet don't pay tax on it, blame the government for a disease, and blame the "townies" for not understanding blood sports. We can import our food from overseas, it's the farmers that shouldn't bite the hand that feeds them.
The disease is devastating this area spreading from the village or Malham, and south to Airton and west towards Lancashire, but we hear little of it from the politicians. The fields are an empty green desert. How will the Dales recover?
John Wilyman, Stainforth, N Yorks
What annoys me when I listen to the fuel protesters, the Tories and the countryside alliance is that they totally disregard the views of the silent majority of people who live in the countryside. That is the extremely low paid agricultural workers, the people who were born here but are totally disgusted by the mindless cruelty of the hunting fraternity.
Foot & Mouth is now ravishing the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, and where are the politicians now? Animal welfare seems to be low priority. Having read accounts of appalling cruelty (Sunday Times 20.5.01) no one cares!
Who is responsible for this so-called town and countryside divide? Personally I think it is the rump of wealthy farmers, foxhunters and most especially old Tories who are still furious that the country is governed not by one of them, but by Labour. They thought foot and mouth was a godsend and that the whole country would blame the government. Sadly for them, the vast majority of people have more sense. These people are poisoning the country with their loathing of Tony Blair. What they will do when Labour is re-elected, god knows - but expect more trouble.
Is the foot and mouth crisis under control, despite 11 cases in Settle, N Yorkshire over the last week (a previously uninfected area) - or is it best to keep quiet during the election campaign?
I deplore the rise of groups like the "Countryside Alliance" - they combine the worst excesses of the far right with the worst excesses of the far left. They seem to believe that that they have a god given right to be subsidised by the rest of the country so that they can follow their (uneconomic) lifestyle. But they don't want to contribute to the wider community that is Great Britain - it is just "us us us."
Do people not understand the importance of the countryside? Without people who work the land none of us would be able to eat. Nourishment does not come from mobile phones or computers. Maybe farming is not the in vogue industry, but we all rely on it. I think it is time that more long-term investment was put into the rural community.
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 pro-bloodsports lobby who are only interested in their own selfish goal - the continuation of foxhunting. The real needs of most rural dwellers 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
The countryside is in crisis because farming is (pardon the pun) a lame-duck industry. It is the British Leyland of the 21st Century. There really is no point throwing good money after bad, at an industry which has so many problems. It's time to pull out the subsidies, let the dust settle for a couple of years, and then come back to a slimmed-down industry (half the size?) which might be competitive.
I'm afraid the industry is hooked on subsidies. These subsidies haven't raised farm incomes, just land prices and the costs of land acquisition. In doing this they've distorted the relationships between the costs of inputs in favour of intensive, non-sustainable systems. They've also resulted in the type of farming being dictated by the politicians rather than the soil. Yet the withdrawal symptoms to be faced are very grave. I fear there's no way forward without a great deal of pain. The example set by New Zealand (where all farming subsidies were withdrawn suddenly a few years ago), however, is encouraging. There were less bankruptcies than expected and their industry seems to be in good shape.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK
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