The Prime Minister, David Cameron, wrote for our Spring magazine ahead of the General Election on 7th May, but his piece is no less interesting post-Election. Mr Cameron wrote: I am proud of our country’s rural identity – and my own rural heritage. Having been brought up in the beautiful village of Peasemore in Berkshire, the countryside is still the place I feel most at home. I’m based in London for most of the week, but feel a noticeable emotional shift when I arrive in West Oxfordshire each Friday. We spend a lot of time outdoors as a family: walking, running, gardening, cycling and riding.
We all help feed the animals at the next door farm and eagerly anticipate lambing time each year. Decisions get mulled over while tending my muddy veg patch. There is a strong sense of community in the small towns and villages that make up my constituency – the second most rural in the South East of England – centred around shared shops and pubs, thriving markets, and local businesses. It is clear to me that sharing those sort of services is as much about creating a sense of community as it is about buying beer or bread, which is why we are protecting community post offices and giving communities the right to own and manage the last shop or pub in their village.
There is definitely a rural way of life which a born and bred Londoner might struggle to understand. I have always been a strong supporter of country sports. It is my firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt, so I share the frustration that many people feel about the Hunting Act and the way it was brought in by the last government. The Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government Bill in government time.
Of course, although there is a rural way of life, no two rural areas are the same. There is a huge diversity in local landscapes and the shape of each local economy. In some parts of the UK, like West Oxfordshire, we have flourishing market towns. We also have quite a few escaped entrepreneurs from London who, like so many others in rural Britain, now run successful businesses from their homes.
In other areas, farming – always the backbone of the rural economy – has an even more important role to play. In East Anglia, the UK’s growing agri-tech industry has even caught the attention of Bill Gates. And, of course, tourism plays a vital role in rural areas as diverse as Cumbria, Yorkshire, Norfolk and Devon. I still try to make an annual pilgrimage to North Cornwall with my family, a place I’ve been going to ever since I was a child. It feels only right that Truro hospital was where our youngest daughter, Florence, was born, cementing Cornwall into our family history. Walking the coastal paths, fishing off the Doom Bar at low tide, or having a barbecue at Daymer Bay, looking across the estuary towards Padstow: this is the stuff that memories are made of. Desperately searching for a mobile signal to download e-mails and text messages are perhaps less impressive moments to treasure. I can’t pretend personal frustration has not had a part to play in our universal broadband programme and the commitment to ending mobile ‘not-spots’. Being connected – socially, and through technology – is, for me, a critical part of a strong and prosperous rural economy.
So, to me, the countryside is – and should be – a living, breathing, working environment, not a museum. We must ensure appropriate protections for our magnificent landscapes, but we should recognise just how many of them, like the stone walls and grass fields of the Cotswolds, are man made. So we also need to support the industries that make the countryside thrive and help businesses find and keep a foot-hold.
Some of this government’s decisions – such as the badger cull, our decision to end subsidies for onshore wind, or our road and rail programme – have not been universally popular. But they are part of a long-term plan- a plan to secure a better future for our much treasured rural communities. As we continue to take the difficult decisions required to ensure prosperity is felt in every part of our country, you can be assured that I understand your interests and concerns, because – as a rural MP with the countryside in my blood – in all likelihood, I share those too.