It is Time to Defend the Country Way of Life - Yorkshire Post 24th August 2007


Country living has never been under greater threat.

Every political party is dedicated to the principle of “Value for Money”, a principle which is ruining the countryside. We are told that the purpose is to ensure that services are delivered “where they are needed most”. In other words, as it costs less to deliver services in densely populated towns and cities than in sparsely populated village and farm communities, it is country services which are cut back.

So, every year we see more village school and post office closures; country fire services in many country towns no longer have full time firemen on duty 24 hours a day; cottage hospitals are closed, and the ambulance service is also being cut back. Patients requiring urgent maternity care are told they will have to catch the bus to the big hospital twenty miles away to have their baby!

Country police stations are closed or downgraded, so that nobody can be locked up in them. So, when the pubs close, the already hard pressed local police have to waste the time of several officers in driving miscreants twenty or more miles to the nearest police station with cells which are manned.

We are told that, because of the sparcity of population, our flood defences need not be maintained in “good” condition, but that something less will do, and that, in places, “hard decisions” must be made to abandon some flood defence works altogether.

We are despised and governed by city slicks and called “woolly backs”, “country bumpkins” or worse. They impose on us their own perverse politically correct values as if they were universal truths, and ban fox hunting. They think country people are all rich, when, in fact, although there is little unemployment, for most people the countryside is a low wage economy. They see Rural Britain as a place of scenic beauty, suitable for sport, recreation, entertainment and retirement – not as a place where people live, work and grow food. 

Clearly, the only way Country People have of doing anything about their concerns  is through the democratic process. Unfortunately, our parliamentary system does not help: most of our MPs come from densely populated urban constituencies. The House of Lords used to be the one place where rural concerns could find strong support, due to pressure that could be applied by the country landed gentry, but the House of Lords has been “reformed” now, and their influence counts much less.

What is clear is that the city slicks and the Whitehall mandarins who run the country don’t want the countryside to have a voice. Their vision is of cities dominating and controlling the surrounding countryside. So they seek to crush all opposition, particularly in local government.

First they tried to marginalise most local councillors by giving single party “cabinets” the same absolute power as the ruling party’s chairmen’s group had always exercised in the cities. Then in 1996 they encouraged us to waste millions on expensive public relations campaigns to merge shire districts and turn them all into mini county councils.

A few years ago, they proposed directly elected regional assemblies. This was conditional on the abolition of Shire Counties and the merger of shire districts into big all-purpose authorities. If this had gone through, the North Yorkshire area would have had just two members of the 30 member assembly, and all the important decisions for the entire Yorkshire and Humberside Region would have been made by a cabinet of six.

The Regional Government proposal failed, but hardly had the dust settled, when, last year, Whitehall produced a White Paper. The issues which the White Paper  addresses are symptomatic of cites where councillors represent sometimes more than 5,000 voters, voter turnout at elections is low, crime drugs and unemployment are high, schools perform badly, and Council estates are decaying, vandalised and badly managed. In short, the White Paper is primarily concerned with conurbations with large neglected inner city areas – not rural counties like North Yorkshire.

 The White Paper seeks to solve these problems by bringing local government closer to the people. However, Whitehall used the White Paper to achieve the very opposite. They encouraged rural Counties to bid for unitary status and make local government more remote from the people it serves. North Yorkshire’s bid failed, but Cornwall is now to become a huge unitary authority. Those who know Cornwall will be astonished to understand how an authority based on the small market town of Truro can possibly comprehend and represent the different interests of distant  towns like Penzance, St. Austel, Cambourne-Redruth, Bude and Falmouth – communities separated by the vast expanse of Bodmin Moor.

It is time the countryside stood up against this kind of bullying. We should vigorously defend our rural services and country democracy.




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