Imagine rural England five years into a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, and propped up by the SNP and perhaps also the Greens. If you can’t imagine, let me paint the picture for you using policies from their election manifestos and only a small amount of artistic licence.
The biggest house-building programme in history is well under way, with a million new houses mainly being built in rural areas. Several ‘garden cities’ have sprung up in Surrey, Sussex and Kent, though in truth the gardens are the size of postage stamps. No matter, because having a big garden is a liability since right to roam was extended so that ramblers can walk across your lawn.
Oh, and if you’re thinking of walking a dog, think again. The killing of any animal outdoors, whether intentional or accidental, is deemed to be ‘reckless hunting’. Consequently, most dog owners simply cannot risk letting their dog off the lead in case it catches a squirrel, the penalty for which is a prison sentence. Shooting estates have all but disappeared. The ones in Scotland were the first to go, because of SNP land reforms. But soon most gamekeepers in Britain were being prosecuted for ‘wildlife crime’ after government inspectors found they were killing rats, foxes, mink, magpies, crows and grey squirrels. Now there’s no shooting, songbirds are dwindling in numbers as predators run amok. The rural economy is £2 billion down.
Dairy farming is at an all-time low as more and more farmers throw in the towel in the face of the growing threat of TB to their herds from badgers, after Labour ended the badger cull. Consequently, most milk is imported from Holland and Belgium.
After pressure from the Greens, horse-racing has been subjected to so many new rules that an increasing number of courses find it financially unviable to continue. Three-day eventing is in turmoil because use of the whip — even to tap a horse’s neck — has been banned from all equestrian sports, along with over-vigorous kicking of the legs. Horses now regularly hesitate before fences, catapulting riders over the top.
Cages, dog crates and animal hutches are banned. The RSPCA have been given powers to raid homes without a warrant if abuse is suspected. ‘Abuse’ can mean a dizzying variety of offences, including not cleaning a dog’s teeth.
New targets for ‘zero carbon homes’ mean that country cottages must pay a levy to continue to use open fires and log-burners. Four-by-fours are subject to an emissions tax, so a lot of poorer families cannot get about when it snows. Tractors have to pay a congestion charge.
All rural businesses and public services must abide by the terms of Labour’s National Adaptation Programme, under which everything they do must take account of climate change, with mandatory reporting every year on how they have acted to reduce carbon emissions. Sadly, many village shops and schools can’t cope with the red tape and go under.
The Environment Secretary, Natalie Bennett of the Green party, has established a commission to examine how vegetarianism might be promoted by the NHS and in schools. Extra welfare payments are on offer for families who choose to go meat-free.
However, while most Britons are prevented from harming so much as a hair on the head of any animal, Islamic slaughterhouses continue to be licensed to kill animals by slitting their throats. Pickets outside halal butchers are a common sight as people demand the government end the hypocrisy of animal welfare laws that exempt Muslims.
As crime soars in urban areas, hundreds of hours of parliamentary time are devoted to devising dozens of new laws aimed at sleepy rural communities. Health and safety regulations proliferate. Ed Miliband faces calls to intervene after the Queen is issued with an on-the-spot fine for riding without a hat at Sandringham. A full-blown constitutional crisis erupts after Zara Phillips is given a three-year prison sentence for yanking too hard on the reins as her horse tackles a water jump at Badminton. A few weeks later, riots break out when police raid the All England jumping course at Hickstead after a tipoff that one of the competitors is wearing spurs. Members of the Pony Club march on Parliament Square demanding civil rights.
Fine, so now I’m getting carried away. The last four items are pure fiction. I’m extrapolating a little — but not much. The rest of this nightmare vision has at least some basis in fact. Everything about Labour’s rural manifesto screams that it is planning a return to the class warfare and divisiveness of its past, setting town against country in order to rule. Look at what its shadow environment secretary, Maria Eagle, said in February about the party’s plans to tackle ‘wildlife crime’.
The next Labour government will undertake an independent review to ‘reduce animal cruelty on shooting estates’ — which assumes that cruelty on shooting estates is a fact. Gun licences will become more expensive, presumably to make shooting unviable. The processing fee for a shotgun license has already increased from £50 to £79.50 and while their figures are hazy, it is thought Labour wants it to be £196. Other lines of attack proposed by shadow ministers include restricting driven grouse shooting and a ban on lead shot.
Ms Eagle said her party would ‘defend’ the ban on hunting with hounds. What this means remains unclear. Labour is under pressure from the League Against Cruel Sports to strengthen the ban, creating a new offence of ‘reckless hunting’ which would penalise anyone whose dog hunts a mammal accidentally. That would also make it an offence to lay a drag trail anywhere where wild mammals might be found — in other words, anywhere. And the league wants a six-month mandatory prison sentence for offences under the Hunting Act.
Hunting and shooting are, of course, the thin end of wedge. The suspicion has to be that the left wants to get stuck into racing, too, and anything else that ‘toffs’ do on horseback. Moreover, if Labour has to rely on Green party support, the price the Greens might extract could easily be the adoption of their own barmy policies. Leader Natalie Bennett has said she wants ‘a complete review of all horse and dog racing’, and an end to the Grand National. Her manifesto outlines a ban on rabbit hutches, a national code of conduct for anglers and a ban on certain types of fishing hook.
Labour also appears susceptible to the increasingly intemperate RSPCA. The fear is that the charity will talk Miliband into ever stricter controls, just as it lobbied the last Labour government for the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to include the dangerously broad offence of ‘failing an animal’s needs’, a clause which has fuelled myriad unjust prosecutions of elderly and infirm pet--owners. The joke I made earlier about not cleaning a dog’s teeth actually happened, by the way: a couple called Frank and Hazel Hill had the book thrown at them recently when the RSPCA took them to court for letting -tartar build up on their dachshund’s gnashers.
My prediction about dairy farmers is hardly hysterical. The latest figures show that almost 500 have packed up in the past year, with despair over TB the major factor. Imagine what they will do when Labour leaves them with no disease control at all.
On right to roam, the Labour manifesto outlines a desire to ‘bring nature closer to people by making public access to green spaces a priority’. Those will be the green spaces left over when they’ve finished putting up buildings, presumably. They want 200,000 new homes a year, twice the current number.
On climate change, they promise a mountain of red tape: ‘We will provide half a million personalised home energy reports a year.’ Ye gods. The National Adaptation Policy is fact too, sadly. A pledge that ‘There will be no moratorium on onshore wind under a Labour government’ is enough to put the wind up anyone who doesn’t want a turbine in every field. Labour, it says, ‘remains committed to zero carbon homes as set out by the Zero Carbon Hub’. Yes, well, whatever that is, I bet it doesn’t have any good news for people living in thatched cottages.
The problem is, the closest this lot have come to the countryside is Hampstead Heath. When it comes to country pursuits they think dogging is as valid as jogging, for all one can tell. The left has no clue about the realities of rural existence and persists with useless ideology. They think they can prevent all creatures suffering, and kick the bejesus out of farmers, while still having meat and milk on the shelves of the trendy organic supermarkets they like to frequent.
What of a mansion tax’s effect on the countryside? How many elderly widows in rambling farmhouses will have to sell up? To look at it from another angle, how many London families will descend on rural areas when they face a demand for £25,000 a year for their four-bed semi in Streatham?
One can easily foresee a situation in which the demand for family homes in the commuter belt becomes so urgent that even Labour’s house-building can’t accommodate all the desperate urbanites selling up in the capital to escape.
Except that an escape to the country won’t be what it used to be, will it?