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Fighting back: the Lakes-v-political correctness

Friday 07 January 2005

Two items of rural news sent our countryside commentator John Sheard into paroxysms of rage against political correctness this week. But, up in the Lake District, there came signs of a fightback

THERE has always been a keen but understated rivalry between the two national park authorities which protect the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. So close together that they virtually meet in Cumbria, they seem to me to offer two different slices or rural England, superficially at least.

I tend to think of the Lakes as a coach party place centred on the honey pots of Windermere, where motorised tourists stop for candyfloss and a souvenir tea towel. For me, the Dales are the windswept wastes of Langstrothdale, where lonely walkers share the horizon with wailing curlews and barely domesticated sheep.

The Lake District: making a stand against political correctness?

Both descriptions are unfair, in fact, because each national park has a share of both types of visitor and both suffer the same problems. One of those, at present, is dealing with London-based politicians and civil servants obsessed with political correctness.

These people think that a walk on Hampstead Heath is a day in the country, that a night out is sipping chardonnay in a quiet Highgate wine bar with other upper middle class members of the chattering classes is a typical Saturday night out throughout Britain.

So despite warnings from judges, leading policemen and religious leaders, they are going to let pubs and clubs sell booze to adolescents 24 hours a day. For small country towns like Skipton, where police spend virtually every weekend night battling with drunken yobbos until 3 am, there will never be a quiet hour of the day.

At the same time, these PC prima donnas are changing the law to make life as difficult as possible for organisations like rugby clubs to allow visiting fans to buy a drink at the bar, a mandatory part of the rugby experience - and one which, in almost 50 years as a fan, I have never seen escalate into violence. Wharfedale, North Ribblesdale and Skipton rugby clubs have already had to spend hard-won time and money to get their licenses changed.

But the worst blow came at the beginning of the week when it was revealed that the new laws could also send 20 Yorkshire agricultural shows into bankruptcy by extracting licensing levies of between £5,000 and £50,000 (see News).

Then came the second of this week's kick in the countryside crutch: the news that the Lake District park authority was to sack its 100-plus voluntary wardens who lead groups of inexperienced walkers through it lovely countryside (also see News).

The reason: these walks attract "too many middle aged, middle class white people." In future, it was said, the Lake District would devote most of its efforts to attracting young inner city people, preferably from ethnic minorities.

This statement caused absolute uproar from most Lakes locals, particularly the business community who rely on tourism for their bread and butter. Thankfully, a park sub-committee overturned the decision in mid-week - although, an official spokesman warned, this overturning could be itself overturned when the full park authority next meets.

The Lakes considered this lunatic proposal for one reason only: they will be given more money if they attract more black visitors, yet another example of uninformed, unthinking political correctness imposed on the countryside from London and Brussels.

In our pretty corner of rural England, we have already had our bypasses on the A65 scrapped (the Wandsworth-based Ramblers' Association has decreed that we already have enough roads); we are still recovering from the debacle of foot and mouth, catastrophically mishandled because no-one in Hampstead has ever seen a cow; and now our centuries-old hunts are to be criminalized by urban thickies who think that foxes are cuddly toys.

Thank God that one small Lake District committee had the guts to listen to local common sense rather than pander to the PC politicos. Let's hope the full park authority backs their stand. It is time for country folk to stand up and be counted!

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