There are not many events in Parliament that gather such an eclectic and far-flung crowd as the Countryside Alliance Awards which we celebrated on Wednesday. There are not many either that bring together so many parliamentarians from so many parties to celebrate the success of constituents and local businesses.
One group of MPs was, however, slightly distracted as the Conservative Party continued the process of electing a new leader, who will become the next Prime Minister. The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, who was part of that competition gave his apologies and sent the Rural Affairs Minister, Lord Gardiner, to introduce the Awards in his place. The parliamentary part of the process was competed yesterday as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were selected by Conservative MPs as the candidates that Conservative party members will choose between.
It is important that the voice of the countryside is heard as the Conservative Party chooses its new leader. As a powerful Daily Telegraph editorial on our Awards noted this week
“These are not easy times for those who live and work in the countryside. Brexit uncertainties have fuelled anxieties about future export markets and competition from imports for farmers. A sense that the political discourse is almost exclusively a metropolitan one has hardly been disabused by the shenanigans at Westminster”
If you are a Conservative party member you have an opportunity to influence that political discourse and can apply to attend regional hustings being held over the next month with the two candidates. The Alliance will also be asking both candidates to answer a range of questions on rural issues.
Despite the difficulties of our current political situation the Countryside Alliance Awards brought together rural people from Anglesey to Norfolk and from Northumberland to Devon. Publicans, shopkeepers, farmers and rural entrepreneurs of all types gathered to celebrate all that is best about the British countryside.
And every winner has a great story: the Herefordshire potato farmers on a quest to put crisps in a biodegradable packet, the Sussex grocer whose shops are converted horse boxes, the publicans from Wales who bought their local pub to save it from closure, the Berkshire cooperative running a community shop, the Northamptonshire butchers specialising in nose to tail butchery, the Kent game dealers promoting game and educating the next generation, and the Suffolk entrepreneur reviving farmers markets across the county.
What brings all their stories together is the extraordinary people behind them. Rural people determined to develop their businesses and deliver for their communities. With your help we will be working over the next month to ensure that the next Prime Minister understands how important these people, and the countryside they create, are to the whole of our country.
Follow me at @CA_TimB