The Countryside Alliance Liberty and

The Countryside Alliance Liberty and Livelihood March is taking place today. Unsurprisingly, as someone who lives and works in a largely rural area, I broadly support the aims of the march. However, I think that the organisers need to be careful that the right message is getting across. For example, is it right that hunting should be the central and key issue? This is certainly an emotive subject (one for which I have a certain degree of ambivalence), but, ultimately, really doesn’t effect that many people directly, and is not likely to lead to a great degree of sympathy from urban voters.
Surely it would be much better to put more focus on the human aspects of the current situation in the countryside? Bankrupt farmers (the custodians of that nice green space that city folk like to escape to at the weekend), struggling shopkeepers and postmasters, school children who must travel 25 miles to their nearest school/doctor/dentist, young families who can not afford their own home due to falling incomes and spiralling property prices (typical price of a two bed cottage in a village in Sussex: around £180,000 to £200,000 – try affording that if you have a joint income of £30,000 and a child or two to support!) and so on. These issues have an impact on the entire community, and have ramifications on the entire national economy, environment and infrastructure, touching everyone from rural Cumbria ultimately to urban Camden.
Back in the 80s, under Mrs Thatcher, there was a north-south divide in this country. I’m sure that still exists, but in the last few years we have seen the beginnings of a new divide, between urban and rural. The perception, rightly or wrongly, is that central government is divorced from and has no understanding of rural issues. And doesn’t care.
But it is the responsibility of the Countryside Alliance to ensure that the message is effectively communicated. Two things have struck me about the media coverage of the event – the general focus on hunting at the expense of all those other issues, and the images (exemplified by the cover photo on today’s Indy of farmers who had ridden for four days to Hyde Park, celebrating by swigging from a bottle of Bolly) of wealth, decadence and hooray-henry-ness (the Indy also carries an article listing all the socialite parties being held tonight for march-goers – and before anyone suggests I should look at another newspaper, perhaps they should check that the Telegraph’s editor, Charles Moore, is actually hosting one of these parties). The CA should take a leaf from the Labour Party’s book, and learn to more precisely control the message that is being put over, focus on the true situation of tumbling incomes and faster falling rural land and business values – and not give any opportunity for the media to find mixed and confused messages such as those I describe.
However, in spite of that, the march does illustrate the scale and depth of feeling about these issues. Is it in vain to hope that it might make a difference?