Labour's "Rural Renewal"
Shortly before he was elected as leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn published a rural policy paper, 'Rural Renewal', which resulted from a short open consultation. Respondents highlighted many of the concerns the Countryside Alliance campaigns on and it was no surprise to see housing, transport and communications infrastructure, and support for the farming and fishing industries at the top of the list of issues raised.
The policy response was, understandably, not detailed but it did show that Mr Corbyn was fully engaged with the problems, for instance, faced by dairy farmers dealing with supermarkets and rural businesses struggling with sub-standard broadband. He was the only candidate for the Labour leadership to address rural issues directly and was keen to note his upbringing in rural Shropshire and Wiltshire.
His election should therefore have heralded an opportunity for Labour to start to rebuild relationships with the rural community, especially in the 100 or more constituencies with a significant rural population which in recent history have returned Labour MPs but no longer do so.
Unfortunately, however, the increasing engagement of the Labour party with the animal rights movement, illustrated by the unfortunate 'Animal Welfare' manifesto published before the last election, has created a significant barrier to any rural renewal as Mr Corbyn has chosen as his shadow Defra spokesman a militant vegan and animal rights campaigner, Kerry McCarthy MP.
Ms McCarthy is patron of the Vegan society which believes “animal farming is no longer sustainable and severely damaging to the environment” and is “against all shooting sports”.
Veganism, or vegetarianism, should be no barriers to the role in itself, but someone who has voiced strong opinions against the livestock farming industry, many aspects of wildlife management and other rural activities will struggle to gain the trust with those who rely on them.
Given Mr Corbyn's engagement with rural issues prior to his election we can only hope that Kerry McCarthy's appointment was not meant to be provocative, although many people will see it as just that. What it does highlight is the increasing acceptance of an animal rights agenda inside the Labour party and the complete failure to understand that issues like livestock farming and shooting cannot be separated out from the rest of rural life. If Jeremy Corbyn really wants to see a rural revival for Labour he should start by shelving the negative politics of animal rights and instead focus on a positive vision for the countryside.
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