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Tony Blair: Ten years of rural rip-off

Friday 22 June 2007

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, who welcomed the arrival of Tony Blair in Downing Street as a breath of fresh air, says good riddance and deplores a decade in which rural interests were fed to the slavering dogs of Old Labour

TONY BLAIR is spending his last weekend at Prime Minister and, I pray, is not planning yet another betrayal as his last act in office. That is a sad final reflection on a man who, when he marched into Downing Street just over ten years ago, I thought showed great promise.

What impressed me was not just that he had a huge majority but also that New Labour had won some 160 rural or semi-rural seats. Here was a man, I thought, with fresh ideas who might take a new look at rural problems and take action to prevent the ossification that was spreading across our countryside.

Tony Blair rural rip off
Tony Blair: Ten years of rural rip-off

What a fool I was. But how was I to know that the wishes of country folk would be fed to the Old Left dinosaurs to keep them fighting over the bones of rural life, their attention distracted whilst Our Tone got on with his disastrous attempts to become a world statesman - and his hatchet man Gordon Brown butchered the rural economy to feed the insatiable welfare bloodlust of the inner cities.

Even when they came to power, I had been writing for a decade or more about the plight of poor country folk: about the lack of affordable housing, the collapse of the rural transport network, the closure of rural schools and pubs, the social deprivation and unemployment which is so easily hidden in small communities.

And what has this bunch of incompetents done to address the problems of the rural poor? Precisely nowt. In almost every areas of policy, life has got worse for most country folk:

  • In ten years, hundreds more young people have been forced out of their rural villages as house prices soared, doubling and even trebling in many Yorkshire Dales villages, driven by the second-home and holiday cottage industry.
  • The first act by then transport-supremo (!) John Prescott was to cancel bypasses for A65 villages choking in noise and fumes from holiday traffic. Almost his last act before stumbling off into well-deserved obscurity was to revoke the planning permissions for those by-passes, which means it is highly unlikely they will ever be built.
  • At the end of their first term came the foot and mouth debacle, which politicians and civil servants are said to have covered up for a vital two weeks because a second general election was looming - two vital weeks in which the disease spread the length and breadth of England.
  • It has been reported many times that Blair didn't want to ban fox-hunting but was forced to do so to keep his Left Wing rabble in check - despite the fact that one million country people protested on the streets of London (a protest ignored by Labour's supporters on the Radio Four Today programme).
  • The Right to Roam bills were forced through without compensation to land owners and farmers, an act which cost tens of millions because of inaccurate maps and bureaucratic incompetence. As far as I know, landowners are still liable for damages should some idiot injure him- or herself on their land.
  • The above has been repeated again this week when Natural England announced that the whole of the English coastline will become a public footpath, with no compensation for the owners of farms, private estates, hotels and golf courses whose land will be trampled.
  • Blair was completely outwitted by former French president Jacques Chirac when he gave up Britain's EU rebate on agreement that the outrageous Common Agricultural Policy rip-off would be reformed - only to fund that France is keeping it on until 2011, giving their farmers a huge financial advantage over ours.
  • That, of course, brings us onto the brain-dead incompetence of the Labour created Rural Payments Agency, which still owes hundreds of English farmers money due in 2005 - and as a result must pay hundreds of millions of Euros in fines to Brussels.
  • Still underway are plans to scrap hundreds of rural post offices and close A&E and maternity units in scores of hospitals. Although full details of these programmes have not yet been made concrete, leaked documents show that - surprise, surprise - most of those closures are planned in parliamentary constituencies held by Tory or Lib-Dem MPs - i.e., in mainly rural or semi-rural areas.
  • And even the armed forces have been affected: whilst the nation cries out for more (and better equipped) soldiers to fight wars on two fronts, New Labour have scrapped the Yorkshire Dales' own regiment, the Duke of Wellington's, founded by the most successful soldier this nation ever produced.

I could probably go on but, as I write this, there are rumours afoot of the biggest betrayal of all. Tony Blair is this weekend said to be planning to sign-up Britain to a new EU treaty which would strip the oldest democracy in the world of many of its sovereign powers. The treaty would create a new President of Europe. And guess who is said to be in line for the job?

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