Magazine article The Spectator

Who Will Don Elijah's Mantle and Lead the Revolt of Ruritania?

Magazine article The Spectator

Who Will Don Elijah's Mantle and Lead the Revolt of Ruritania?

Article excerpt

If I were given the job of resurrecting the Conservative party from its smouldering ruins, I would start with the countryside. It is there, in the remoter parts of Kent and Sussex, in the Hampshire of chalk troutstreams, in the bosky recesses of the West Country, in Shropshire and Cheshire, in Suffolk and Lincolnshire, `that most brute and beastly of our shires' as Henry VIII (another persecutor of the countryside) called it, in the Pennine country and Cumbria and, God help them, among the harassed farmers of Wales and Scotland, now with local parliaments of professional cranks and vegetarians snapping at their heels - it is in these vast tracts of old-fashioned Ruritania that a huge quantity of combustible material, already emitting sparks, is waiting for the wind of leadership to burst into fiery flame. The ensuing conflagration could engulf the Labour government - and much else - not just in the remote future but in good time for the next general election.

The countryside is stricken, starved and angry. The middling and poorer farmers have seen their incomes reduced by half, and their lack of cash impoverishes ever-widening circles of tradespeople. Lambs and calves sell for a pittance. In many parts there has been a heart-wrenching increase in farming suicides; strong men, by no means old in many cases, driven to the once unthinkable by a despairing inability to turn their countless hours of dogged labour into a living wage. These shocking cases demoralise the rest, spreading ripples of fear through entire communities. The government - I almost said politicians generally - is hated, seen not merely as cynical and unsympathetic but as positive opponents. Tony Blair's flippant change of policy over field sports, announced casually in response to vast cash donations by the animal-rights lobby, was regarded as characteristic of Westminster morals.

There is a feeling in many villages and farms that they are under enemy occupation.

Seedy-looking ministry inspectors, local authority invigilators, Brussels spies, officials from the revenue and VAT make notes and lists of names. Arrests, prosecutions follow.

Sometimes the occupation takes a physical form. Parties of brutal-looking youths, heads shaven, dressed in military overalls and armed with hefty sticks, descend from unmarked white vans to attack the local hunt. In the West Country, it has become a new form of violent sport for thugs from Bristol and even Birmingham. Then there is the odd quisling farmer, made desperate by shortage of cash, who lets his fields to a popconcert promoter, and armies of hooligans emerge from the sewers and gutters of the cities to make the rural days fetid with their filth and the nights hideous with their pandemoniac row, which can often be heard 20 miles from its epicentre.

The police do very little to protect country dwellers from such invasions. They have lost their bottle and with it the confidence of rural England. Chief constables are much more scared of anti-rural newspapers and MPs than they are of the complaints of lawabiding people who pay their salaries. One chief constable recently announced that `environmental crime' was the real challenge to his men. That is coded language for saying, `We will do what the metropolitan lobbies tell us, and to hell with the farmers.'

Indeed, in the minds of many city intellectuals, making a living out of the land is the original environmental sin. To them, farming is by its nature a criminal activity, of which field sports are merely the external, manifestly cruel expression. …

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