In Orwell’s Animal farm a core tenet of life on the farm was “All animals are equal”. However, as he seized power and influence the bombastic Napoleon made a fundamental addition to the declaration “All animals are equal – but some are more equal than others.” Life over the last year has proved how prophetic that amended declaration has become today, not just Orwellian fiction. In, fact today’s version could be rewritten as “I am me, and I will do what I want- regardless of the cost to society at large.”
Prior to the pandemic urban man lost no opportunity to make it clear to politicians that he does not like the countryside as it is- it does not conform to what he thinks it should be like and it did not give him the right to “Do what I want- regardless of the cost to society at large” something he often exercised at home. Government policy on rural issues has been deliberately emasculated to placate pressure groups who aim to turn the countryside into a gigantic theme park where, without any consideration for anyone else the ‘urban person’(UP) can go where he wants, ride his motorcycle, park his car, let his dog have fun exercising fat sheep whilst he videos the chase for social media, take a selfie showing a ‘cute’ member of the family holding a lamb at any time of the year, throw away his beer cans, freezer or old settee and generally do what he wants when and where he wants. UP also demands the picturesque villages that have been promised by daytime TV presenters which he can then sanitize into nice ‘Tudorbethan’ dormitories with street lighting and proper drainage but without nasty, untidy locals creating muddy roads, and noisy unkempt animals with appalling personal hygiene.
The British countryside and its way of life is constantly under threat – no one can be of any doubt about that, and to a great extent, ‘fault’ can be laid at the foot of us, well-mannered country people. Look at our reactions to the imposition of the Hunting Act and before that the BSE, Foot and Mouth, and GM crop debacles. History shows that each was exacerbated by political bungling combined with anti-rural journalistic hysteria. There is also little doubt that as a result of each many honest, hard-working, country people were ruined and unemployed because of political ineptitude. Government failed to ‘listen to us’ at national level and then called in support at local level to get them out of their self-made mess. But what have we country people done about it?
Today, Government, regardless of hue, knows that it can continue to ignore the wishes and well-being of country people because in comparative terms the real rural vote is tiny and because we as country people have allowed ourselves to become an ignored and often despised minority. Post pandemic, we live in an overcrowded country that is largely urban in thought, word and deed. Post pandemic man sees the countryside as a backward, muddy and bloody place, occupied by a people so different to them in every way that country people can be dismissed as difficult outsiders, with some very nasty and unpleasant habits, or alternatively as a giant playground for nice people to have a day out, telling the local bumpkins how things should be don. “Something must be done!” screeches UP “A committee must be established to find them guilty of non-woke thought and regulate them out of existence”. Today, we can it seems no longer rely on the modern Conservative Party which appears to be at great risk of becoming more urban now than it ever has been. This is, despite the fact that, perhaps it is the one party to which country people still vainly look for some sort of understanding and support. Small C conservatism has been ineptly sacrificed by big Government in order to placate a mob who see both the countryside and wildlife as ‘ours’ and as such the mob requires that both pay attention to its ever-increasing list of demands.
In the UK, true country folk are politically weak, and we have so far refused to stand up for ourselves. There will be no knees bending to support disenfranchised countrymen – no media frenzy demanding instant wholesale changes or declaring ‘Country Lives Matter’ – because to the majority, at the moment, we no longer do – we are a plaything to be picked up or discarded at a whim. A footnote in history may record that, in one of the biggest marches ever seen in the capital, our one and only legacy was to leave London cleaner than when we found it.
We have as both country people and field sports proponents always treated our opponents with an unwritten respect built upon the concept of “I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it” – a statement frequently and unfairly misattributed to Voltaire. However, our opponents have not reciprocated, but have treated this concept of ‘Vive le difference’ as a core weakness and have responded to it by seeing it as a ‘cash cow’ able to fund a constant stream of lies, half-truths and deliberate exaggeration. Combine that well-funded cynicism with the activities of a few within country sports who have gone out of their way during the pandemic to demonstrate that they are not subject to any law, regulation or governance and you can see that a change of approach is desperately needed
Many townspeople have been force-fed over the last 12 months by ‘on message’ media types to believe that all land is in public ownership and that they have every right to do as they wish there. When it is pointed out to them that most of the land is privately worked and managed, the TV audience becomes irate and demonstrates this by destroying yet another stone wall, pheasant pen, or Larsen trap, despite the fact that it is these things that give the countryside the very ‘managed chocolate box’ look they demand. They will not, or it may even be cannot understand that the obsessions with ‘animal rights’ and ‘rewilding’ will only lead to large parts of the countryside becoming inaccessible and one which will not deliver the pleasant theme park they want.
Perhaps, in the post-pandemic world the concept of the countryside as a living, breathing workplace will be consigned to the dustbin of history and the idea of farming as a major food producing industry will be regarded as nonsense – as everyone knows that food comes from supermarkets, and naturally, all farmers are ‘animal abusers’ – no-one ever openly questions where the supermarkets get the food from if not from farms, and the direction of travel appears to be towards an ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ selfishness where we don’t care how much of a carbon footprint we have in importing food as long as we don’t have any nasty, dirty farms here. Perhaps, after suitable retraining in the latest ‘isms’ it is possible that a few “well-behaved” farmers might be allowed to remain to run token ‘vegan’ farms to amuse the new gentry of the urban middle classes as long as they hide the massive amount of animal and insect control necessary to produce ‘wholesome vegan food’.
The Countryside Alliance at least continues to try to redress the balance and to make sure that the voice of the indigenous countryman is still heard. Country people have voices and if we do not want to lose our way of life then we must use them. Post-Brexit and post-pandemic, Government has a huge opportunity to show it understands the value of the countryside and the vital work of farmers and landowners as custodians and must not just pander to the whims of pressure groups representing visitors. The countryside is as it is because of country sports and farming, with the associated land management activities, and the fact that it is different from the urban environment must be cherished and celebrated before it’s too late. If we want equality with ‘the rights’ of post-pandemic urban man and to be listened to, we are going to have to up our game.