The Countryside Alliance was pleased to host the main fringe event on rural policy issues at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference this year. The event was entitled “How can the Lib Dems win again in the countryside?” and attracted an audience of 80 people who wanted to discuss issues from rural housing and broadband access to fair pricing for farmers and mobile courts, banks and job centres to support remote communities.
There was general consensus among those taking part including Liberal Democrat MP for Ceredigon Mark Williams (pictured) and grassroots campaigns spokesman Tim Pickstone that the party must reconnect with its former strongholds. Countryside Alliance Head of Policy Sarah Lee suggested the “key to unlocking” this rural vote lay in addressing the “real issues” affecting people’s lives, including transport, housing and broadband. She also urged the Lib Dems to be “truly liberal” in their approach to countryside traditions, and display “greater openness” on hunting and shooting.
Mark Williams MP pointed to the Lib Dem’s former success in the Cornish peninsula as an example of how the party can learn to thrive again. “It was a very compelling case put forward by our colleagues in Cornwall that we as a party can stand up for Cornwall,” he explained. “That regional, localist dimension to this is very important… it fits into a liberal, localist narrative very well.”
He also said the party had to abandon any notion of “no go areas” when campaigning. “It’s a message about not having hang ups about different groups of people, about getting out there to everybody.”