The biggest urban myth: the Tories have a birthright to the Shires

Countryside Alliance web shotgunChampions of the Countryside Alliance boast that it is the voice of rural Britain. I disagree. It is just one voice within rural Britain. It’s like saying that the Tories are the voice of the Home Counties and Labour is the voice of the Industrial North. That’s just lousy stereotypical language. There are many different voices within rural England.

I am forever angry that the London press, especially the right leaning press, routinely trots out stereotypes about life in our rural areas. They seem to believe that “Escape to the Country” is something authentic. It’s a reality show, no more.

One reason why rural areas get such a bad deal in public policy is that London journalists rely on urban myths about the countryside rather than trying to understand rural reality. This [un]reality game is not without victims. The media’s glib characterisations of country life distort discussions of pressing issues like rural funding, schooling and a working landscape. And most of all, the need for jobs and decent housing in rural areas.

The anger that drives this article comes from reports in the Spectator and the Telegraph. In his briefing this morning, the Telegraph’s venerable Benedict Brogan claims “the Shires are ditching Dave.” It’s all based on a Countryside Alliance survey. This survey not yet published in full, so we will have to rely on the press reports. And the press are lapping it up. In the Spectator, Melissa Kite has fallen hook, line and trout for the urban myth that the Countryside Alliance represents rural England:

Let’s be clear: given that the CA is basically the voice of the shires, that is only a shade less shocking than saying that 13 per cent of Mr Cameron’s own family intend to vote UKIP, although that is always possible, I suppose. The CA polling shows that 64 per cent of people living in the countryside do not believe coalition policies are helping them.

No. This was not a survey of countryside. It was a survey of members of an organisation that says its about hunting, shooting and rural life in that order. The Countryside Alliance is not “the voice” of the shires. It is just one voice within rural England.

It’s an urban myth that if you don’t support fox hunting, if you are unhappy with breeding pheasants so fat that even the lousiest shot can’t miss, and if you fail to regard someone who has inherited their land as your superior, then you are not ‘rural’. Tradition has its place in rural England, but so does modernity.

It’s a lazy convenience for journalists embedded in the urban jungle of London, ‘escaping’ to the country at the weekend, to believe that one group or another speaks for the parts of the nation outside the capital.

That’s why the London press talks of “the Shires”, an expression so quaint and so very, very English. But then, the London press has always regards Wales and Scotland as somewhere off – not a part of real Britain – we might even call them ‘colonies’ for all the regard the right leaning press in London give them. Yet the Countryside Alliance has a lot of its members in these distant countries who were presumably included in the survey.

The biggest problem in my book is that the London press regards the Shires as places that the Tories have a birthright to represent in Parliament.

They are wrong. There are no inheritance rights in politics. Succession is for the voters to decide. It is true that the Tory hegemony has ruled for a long time in England’s traditional Shires– far too long. If they had done their job even half well then urban areas would not get 50% more funding per head than rural areas.

The changing demographics of rural England will lead to this hegemony dying its natural death over coming decades. This is not before time. But this will be decided at the ballot box by people who live in rural England, not at the whim of press that speaks with the voice of Tory London and misrepresents the many voices of rural England.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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4 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Nov '13 - 3:37am

    Good article Andy. I just read the article in the Telegraph then decided to read yours and yours is much better! :D. I too am not a fan of lazy old narratives. Something new and closer to the truth is far more stimulating!

  • Andy Boddington 1st Nov '13 - 5:29am

    Thanks for that clarification Anthony

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