During Owen Paterson’s vocal conversation with David Cameron in defence of his record as Environment Minister after learning he was being sacked, Paterson reportedly said: ‘this will be a kick in the teeth to 12 million countryside voters… you are making a big mistake’.
There is already mounting evidence to suggest Paterson could be right. Judging by the two standing ovations that Paterson went on to receive last Friday at the Game Fair at Blenheim Palace (at the mere mention of his name), Charles Moore commented that ‘you could almost see the disaffected Tory voters fleeing to Ukip across the tent’.
Never one to miss an open goal, Farage (mobbed at every beer tent and bar dressed in the sort of white striped English blazer jacket I had last seen at Henley in the 1980s) could not resist adding a public eulogy to Paterson for his record of not only being the only minister who truly ‘understood’ the countryside but also – and perhaps more importantly – having been the only minister brave enough to stand up to the powerful (tax payer funded) ‘Green Blob’ lobby, with its zealot army of climate change activists, lobbyists and anti-countryside fundamentalists.
Farage makes no apology for enjoying his shooting and other country pursuits including long pub lunches. That Cameron was himself absent from the Game Fair says much about his worrying indifference to the numbers of traditional Tory rural voters now defecting to Ukip. The Game Fair represents the land, property, sporting and ‘lifestyle’ farming interests of some 12 million potential voters – not just landowners and Argyll-welly wearing members of the CLA (Country Land and Business Association), whose deputy Ross Murray debated against Nigel Farage on the subject of ‘Would the countryside be better off if we left the EU?’.
From the amount of ‘hear, hears’ and cheering that met Farage’s answers, it was pretty clear that Cameron now has every reason to be worried that he is in danger of losing his all-important rural voters.