Rural Reaction is a new political party committed to forcing Westminster to respond to the needs of rural communities. We are planning to run at least 40 candidates in the coming General Election.
For years rural voters have seen politicians use countryside policy as a means of winning urban votes rather than solving rural problems.
Policy after policy is harming both nature and people. Clumsy bans are being imposed without any thought for unintended consequences. Fantasy targets are being set without a strategy.
For rural voters their relationship with the Conservative Party is like a bad marriage. Lord Mandleson was right when he observed that rural votes are “up for grabs” because the “Conservative party… has taken rural Britain for granted”. The Conservatives have done this because they thought rural voters have nowhere else to go.
To the countryside, the environment department should be called Deafra not Defra. It patronises our rural affairs groups, while pandering to eco-woke urban activists. The department even ignores our celebrity supporters including Jeremy Clarkson who called for the “bureaucratic bulldozers” to be put into reverse gear.
The only thing that wakes up politicians is the threat of losing their jobs. The outgoing Conservatives need to hear that they have made the countryside a worse place in their 13 years in power.
So we will be tough on the Tories. But tougher on Labour. If it dared to promote any more of its poisonous policies, it would face a furious response.
And what do we mean by those? Policies built on vacuous fundraising slogans of self-righteous activists. Policies built on emoting not thinking.
But what of our policies? Rural Reaction’s forthcoming manifesto will draw on three principles.
Mainstream parties have acted appallingly to the countryside for decades. Much of it due to their arrogant substitution of urban guesswork for scientific research.
Perhaps the greatest scandal of animal welfare policy is that there was no science to back up the debate on fox hunting. MPs fulminated. But neither side had academic research to show whether it is better for the fox to be hunted, snared or shot. The latter is wiping out some fox populations and comes with a shockingly high wounding rate.
The Burns Report acknowledged the scientific void. That is why 103 vets wrote to Deafra this year saying we need research. They said the research should seek to understand the impact of the 2004 hunting ban on both the suffering of individual foxes and how rural fox numbers have subsequently plunged. True to form, the department has turned its tin-ear towards the vets.
Here is another example of its science-free policies: the rapid growth in dog ownership has seen a big increase in attacks on sheep. The challenge is how can we persuade the dogs not to go after sheep when they inevitably escape from their owners.
On this Deafra has swallowed the woke dogma of reward-based training. This argues that a pat on the back and a biscuit is enough to deter a dog from going after sheep. The department has offered not a shred of science to indicate that its chosen approach works. To compound its science-free ways, Deafra has gone completely hard of hearing when told of research which demonstrates that there is an effective way of preventing attacks: the e-collar training it wants to ban.
Such science-free policymaking costs animals’ lives.
Secondly, Deafra needs to show respect for the wisdom of the generations. Deafra demonises those opposing its policies as “cruel”, thus absolving itself of any need to listen to the case for traditional practices.
For example, gamekeepers have great expertise in managing the balance of nature. Farmers also transfer wisdom down the generations. Instead of learning from them, Deafra tries to micromanage every aspect of how the real experts organise the countryside. Down to each newt and bat Whitehall is hundreds of miles away from reality. It does not know best.
Deafra should be doing “impact assessments” on all of its policies. Instead, it is so busy interfering in everything it does not have the time. Performative listening is the best the countryside gets.
The consequences are felt not just by nature, but humans too.
The economics of farms and estates is often marginal. That is one reason why opponents of traditions like grouse shooting constantly egg on officials into passing ever more draconian regulations. It leads to the gradual strangulation of business viability. And no jobs for people who - often for low wages - show incredible dedication to managing nature.
What about the landowners? Deafra’s torrent of micro-regulation is morphing into the de facto confiscation of land by stealth. The landowners have invested their millions in creating habitats in which rare birds flourish. Yet, confronted by a department which talks in slogans, why should they bother? Why not just do what other hyper-rich do and put their wealth into superyachts and private jets?
Deafra should be encouraging the rich to invest in the rural economy, not making it a bureaucratic nightmare. Private investment in rural management is needed more than ever, given how the unplanned growth in the UK’s human population is creating fresh pressures on every other species.
Yet instead of respect for science, tradition and people, Deafra builds alliances with left-wing groups like the RSPB. This fundraising group constantly attacks other land managers in an attempt to distract attention from its embarrassing refusal to publish its own bird numbers.
The same cynical distraction technique is being attempted by United Utilities in banning shooting on its land. No fig-leaf could ever be big enough to cover its appalling sewage outflows.
The catastrophe of our rivers symbolises how Deafra needs to be put in special measures. Its ineptness stretches from our hillsides to our valleys. It is not just deaf, but blind and unable to smell.