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The countryside revolt against the Tories Rural communities have been abandoned

DUNKELD, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 13: A shooting party set off on first day of the grouse shooting season on Forneth Moor on August 13, 2018 in Dunkeld, Scotland. Gamekeepers are expecting a poor grouse shooting season this year, due to the heavy snowfall in March followed by a warm dry summer which has affected the number of birds breeding successfully. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

DUNKELD, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 13: A shooting party set off on first day of the grouse shooting season on Forneth Moor on August 13, 2018 in Dunkeld, Scotland. Gamekeepers are expecting a poor grouse shooting season this year, due to the heavy snowfall in March followed by a warm dry summer which has affected the number of birds breeding successfully. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)


June 29, 2023   4 mins

When George Orwell tried to define Englishness in his 1941 essay “England Your England”, written under the sound of Nazi bombers, he resorted to a list of images: “The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning
”

What images define the British countryside in 2023? Closed pubs; a new estate of boxy, pricey houses; the packed waiting room at the one doctor’s surgery within 20 miles; farmers at kitchen tables reading trolling tweets by vegans and rewilders; polluted rivers; empty beer cans beside bus stops where the bus now longer stops; the red-brick cottage which working people once rented, but which has now been turned into an Airbnb; the Ocado van delivering supplies to the second-homers; and, if you look closely, the shadowy figures breaking into farmyards before roaring off into the night in a Merc Sprinter van.

Crime in the countryside often sounds like a bit of a laugh: too much underage cider with Rosie down The Crown, or ruddy-faced rogues off The Archers rustling a few sheep. But there’s a truth behind the clichĂ©s. Livestock theft has always been a problem in the sticks, although it isn’t just rural rascals nicking cows and sheep these days — it’s organised crime. An estimated ÂŁ2.4 million worth of livestock was stolen in 2021, and this figure is increasing as the cost-of-living crisis bites, with the stolen animals going to back-street butchers. It is believed that the meat is then sold door to door by criminals posing as ethical organic meat suppliers.

Then there is the killing of sheep by pet-illiterate pandemic dog buyers (cost to farmers: £1.5 million in 2021), industrial fly-tipping, trespassing, fuel siphoning, and the nicking of £2.6 million worth of Land Rover Defenders for parts in 2021. There’s the hare coursing, the “liberation” of lambs by vegan activists, and the theft of farm quad bikes, tractors, machinery and technical equipment by roving overseas gangs. Especially sought-after are the pricey Global Positioning Units (GPS) on modern tractors and combine harvesters, which can cost up to £20,000 each.

There has long been a black market in agricultural kit destined for Eastern Europe, but according to the National Rural Crime Unit (NRCU), the main outlet for the burgled goods is now Russia. Western sanctions following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have left the Russian bread-basket thirsty for stolen farm machinery. The National Farmers Union, the main rural insurer, believes that the cost of GPS theft doubled to more than ÂŁ500,000 in the first four months of 2023, compared with the same period last year. While gangs have targeted the arable farms of eastern England for several years, they now operate up and down the country; in the last week of May, GPS units were stolen from farms from Wiltshire up to the Scottish Borders. In many instances, the farms were “cased” or surveilled by drones.

The problem is only getting worse. In the decade up to 2021, crime rates rose nearly three times faster in rural towns and villages across England and Wales than in the rest of the country. In the first quarter of 2022 alone, the cost of rural crime rose 40%. And yet, despite all this, the Countryside Alliance Rural Survey for Wales reported in February that 56% of respondents believed that the police were failing to take countryside crime seriously.

All of which hints at the real crime perpetrated on the countryside: it’s been abandoned. For what seems like forever, the shires have belonged to the Conservative Party, but the crime wave and the endless neglect are offering opposition parties sniffs of victory. The Green Party is surging; in the May local elections, the Greens even won Mid Suffolk district council from the Conservatives, taking 24 of the 34 seats and securing their first ever majority-held council in the UK. Overall, the Greens doubled their councillors nationally from 240 to 481. In the Sussex market town of Lewes, the Tories, once the largest party, were wiped off the electoral map.

Even Labour, usually as popular in the countryside as foot-and-mouth disease, feels victory in the air. Responding to the Countryside Alliance’s survey on rural crime, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “These figures show just how concerned people are about crime, including in rural communities across the country.” She went on to make her pitch in true-blue, law-and-order political territory: “Labour is the party of law and order. The next Labour government will deliver a Neighbourhood Policing Guarantee, with 13,000 extra neighbourhood police and PCSOs, and proper action to tackle antisocial behaviour.”

More coppers in the countryside? That’s exactly what rural communities want to hear. At the Future Countryside Conference last week, Labour peer Peter Mandelson set out his party’s rural stall with some gusto, reminding the audience that, despite lacklustre rural returns in recent years, the Labour Party had historically taken a decidedly pro-countryside approach. The “countryside was, is and will be a great Labour cause”, he said. He also warned the progressive wing of his party against “picking a fight” with rural people and their traditions, before taking aim at the Conservatives’ rural record in government for the past 13 years, declaring that he saw “a Conservative party that has taken rural Britain for granted” and that country people are “feeling let down and angry”.

Mandy, nobody’s fool, is sensitive to rural discontent. He was, as a player in Tony Blair’s government, on the wrong side of the 2002 Liberty and Livelihood march, the biggest rural demonstration ever. But he’s correct to note that this rebellious Us (the country people) vs. Them (the townies) mentality is boiling over once again. I’ve spent the last fortnight travelling around the West Country, including visiting the agricultural Three Counties Show at Malvern, where one young woman farmer said to me: “If the fucking crime is what pronoun to use, then they [city types] need a fucking sense of priorities.” She then went on to list various Tory deficiencies regarding the countryside, from “confusion” on agricultural policies to failure to “deliver anything from Brexit”.

She, like many other farmers, won’t be voting Conservative at the next election. That number has plunged since 2020, according to a December 2022 survey by Farmer’s Weekly. Just 42% said they would vote Conservative in a general election, down from 71% in 2020. The countryside is seeing red. Mandelson is hoping it will vote red. That might happen here and there; more likely, I suspect, is that at the next election, the countryside will stick two fingers up at the lot of them at the next election. 


John Lewis-Stempel is a farmer and writer on nature and history. His most recent books are The Sheep’s Tale and Nightwalking.

JLewisStempel

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
10 months ago

There are over 100,000 farmers in the UK so the cost of crime figures quoted are fairly low per farmer, albeit very painful for the victims. And most farmers can’t afford a Land Rover Defender. According to Keir Starmer “I gave up as a matter of principle years ago on the basis that eating meat wasn’t the right thing for the body and the planet”. Both Starmer and his wife have been strict vegetarians for many years, which puts them in a pretty small (some might say extreme) minority for people of their age. If farmers think they’ll get a better deal from Starmer, Yvette Cooper, or (heaven help us) the Green Party, they unfortunately have another thing coming. The opposition parties are as reckless about British food security as they are about British energy security.

Last edited 10 months ago by Stephen Walsh
Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
10 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

That wasn’t a pepperoni pizza he had in Durham then?

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
10 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

The Landrover Defenders that are nicked for parts are the old ones which are difficult to procure parts for!

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
10 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

That wasn’t a pepperoni pizza he had in Durham then?

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
10 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

The Landrover Defenders that are nicked for parts are the old ones which are difficult to procure parts for!

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
10 months ago

There are over 100,000 farmers in the UK so the cost of crime figures quoted are fairly low per farmer, albeit very painful for the victims. And most farmers can’t afford a Land Rover Defender. According to Keir Starmer “I gave up as a matter of principle years ago on the basis that eating meat wasn’t the right thing for the body and the planet”. Both Starmer and his wife have been strict vegetarians for many years, which puts them in a pretty small (some might say extreme) minority for people of their age. If farmers think they’ll get a better deal from Starmer, Yvette Cooper, or (heaven help us) the Green Party, they unfortunately have another thing coming. The opposition parties are as reckless about British food security as they are about British energy security.

Last edited 10 months ago by Stephen Walsh
Chris Amies
Chris Amies
10 months ago

Puts me in mind of Chesterton’s “The Secret People.” Conservatives seem to assume the countryside will vote for them even while they use the countryside as an open sewer.

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
10 months ago

Puts me in mind of Chesterton’s “The Secret People.” Conservatives seem to assume the countryside will vote for them even while they use the countryside as an open sewer.

Stephen Rimmer
Stephen Rimmer
10 months ago

I personally think that if Police don’t solve a burglary within a reasonable time frame then the insurance company should have free reign to sue the Police for the cost of the insurance payout.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Rimmer

Hear hear! Plod are hopeless and bent!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Rimmer

Hear hear! Plod are hopeless and bent!

Stephen Rimmer
Stephen Rimmer
10 months ago

I personally think that if Police don’t solve a burglary within a reasonable time frame then the insurance company should have free reign to sue the Police for the cost of the insurance payout.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
10 months ago

Labour doesn’t have a hope in hell in the countryside unless it abandons its woke agenda. Despite incomers, country people are down to earth. They also have a great understanding and love of the land, seeing that it was they who managed it over hundreds of years and shaped the Britain we know today (or knew…) So probably not so keen on open borders. The other crime that has been neglected in the countryside is drugs. Untrammelled by the “sophistications” of the city, they have been an easy sitting target. As for “Labour being the party of law and order” – I nearly choked. Like saying Labour is the party of economic growth. And don’t get me started on Defra.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
10 months ago

Labour doesn’t have a hope in hell in the countryside unless it abandons its woke agenda. Despite incomers, country people are down to earth. They also have a great understanding and love of the land, seeing that it was they who managed it over hundreds of years and shaped the Britain we know today (or knew…) So probably not so keen on open borders. The other crime that has been neglected in the countryside is drugs. Untrammelled by the “sophistications” of the city, they have been an easy sitting target. As for “Labour being the party of law and order” – I nearly choked. Like saying Labour is the party of economic growth. And don’t get me started on Defra.

P N
P N
10 months ago

Anyone in the countryside who thinks voting Labour will improve matters needs their head examining.

Last edited 10 months ago by P N
Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
10 months ago
Reply to  P N

There is also the small matter of field sports.

Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
10 months ago
Reply to  P N

There is also the small matter of field sports.

P N
P N
10 months ago

Anyone in the countryside who thinks voting Labour will improve matters needs their head examining.

Last edited 10 months ago by P N
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

There is a crime in the countryside that I believe should attract capital punishment… shiny new roof racked Land Rover defenders with wide wheels disgorging people with Children called Courtenay, Tiger Jayde and Chardonnay all decked out in shiny new now totally passee Berbours and Hunter gum boots, fresh up from intra M25 nu britn……

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

There is a crime in the countryside that I believe should attract capital punishment… shiny new roof racked Land Rover defenders with wide wheels disgorging people with Children called Courtenay, Tiger Jayde and Chardonnay all decked out in shiny new now totally passee Berbours and Hunter gum boots, fresh up from intra M25 nu britn……

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
10 months ago

Here in the US we can just shoot the bastards, but if you live in a country where just carrying a cricket bat in public requires that you be able to prove you are on your way to a game, more rural policing is the only solution. If the thieves are using drones, why can’t the police extend their operational range in the same way?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

In America your likely be shot by the crook before you had chance to pull your weapon. While having your gear stolen is incredibly annoying, I’d rather that than ending up in a gunfight with a 50-50 chance of survival

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

In America your likely be shot by the crook before you had chance to pull your weapon. While having your gear stolen is incredibly annoying, I’d rather that than ending up in a gunfight with a 50-50 chance of survival

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
10 months ago

Here in the US we can just shoot the bastards, but if you live in a country where just carrying a cricket bat in public requires that you be able to prove you are on your way to a game, more rural policing is the only solution. If the thieves are using drones, why can’t the police extend their operational range in the same way?

j watson
j watson
10 months ago

It’s nearly all gone wrong hasn’t it.
Listening to Cameron/Osborne evidence at Covid Inquiry certainly makes one ponder how much our current problems were seeded in the austerity strategy they initiated (and which has never really ended). Even the IMF, no bastion of Marxist economics, concluded we’d squeezed too hard.
The longer term affects are everywhere now. There is a long term cost consequence to the ideology that was pursued over and above that which others felt economically unnecessary. Remember to rebalance one’s finances it’s what we put in too that makes a difference and the fixation with tax cuts led us to squeeze essential services beyond a sensible balance point.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Looks like you have posted on the wrong article.

j watson
j watson
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Rural crime, cuts in policing?
Can’t get a rural GP appt – cuts in doctor numbers?
Etc
I assume too much I know

Last edited 10 months ago by j watson
j watson
j watson
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Rural crime, cuts in policing?
Can’t get a rural GP appt – cuts in doctor numbers?
Etc
I assume too much I know

Last edited 10 months ago by j watson
Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

There was no austerity, that was just smoke and mirrors talk from Osborne to keep the markets on side. Public spending went up, in real terms, every year from 2010. Spending may not have been as high as you might have wished but that’s not austerity.

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
10 months ago

Well not for the most vulnerable and not if take into account population rises. The stats have been much massaged by the rising spending on pensions which hid the fact that there were freezes for the bulk of benefits.
As this article makes clear:
‘The 2010 Conservative-led government chose to implement a type of austerity that reshuffled spending away from the future and current generations by cutting spending on education (crumbling schools, tuition fees) and the working poor (tax credits and housing benefit cuts), to state pension recipients. This, of course, is not to suggest that state pension recipients have been sheltered from austerity. In fact, the UK’s state pension is among the lowest in developed countries with old age poverty sharply on the rise.’
https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/21496/economics/economic-record-of-osborne-and-cameron-2010-2016/

Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
10 months ago

Well not for the most vulnerable and not if take into account population rises. The stats have been much massaged by the rising spending on pensions which hid the fact that there were freezes for the bulk of benefits.
As this article makes clear:
‘The 2010 Conservative-led government chose to implement a type of austerity that reshuffled spending away from the future and current generations by cutting spending on education (crumbling schools, tuition fees) and the working poor (tax credits and housing benefit cuts), to state pension recipients. This, of course, is not to suggest that state pension recipients have been sheltered from austerity. In fact, the UK’s state pension is among the lowest in developed countries with old age poverty sharply on the rise.’
https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/21496/economics/economic-record-of-osborne-and-cameron-2010-2016/

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Looks like you have posted on the wrong article.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

There was no austerity, that was just smoke and mirrors talk from Osborne to keep the markets on side. Public spending went up, in real terms, every year from 2010. Spending may not have been as high as you might have wished but that’s not austerity.

j watson
j watson
10 months ago

It’s nearly all gone wrong hasn’t it.
Listening to Cameron/Osborne evidence at Covid Inquiry certainly makes one ponder how much our current problems were seeded in the austerity strategy they initiated (and which has never really ended). Even the IMF, no bastion of Marxist economics, concluded we’d squeezed too hard.
The longer term affects are everywhere now. There is a long term cost consequence to the ideology that was pursued over and above that which others felt economically unnecessary. Remember to rebalance one’s finances it’s what we put in too that makes a difference and the fixation with tax cuts led us to squeeze essential services beyond a sensible balance point.

Howard Gleave
Howard Gleave
10 months ago

Your figures of the low millions is hilarious. The theft of my reversing camera is ÂŁ800. The government’s reaponse to Covid was…ÂŁ600 bn? This article is divorced from reality .

Howard Gleave
Howard Gleave
10 months ago

Your figures of the low millions is hilarious. The theft of my reversing camera is ÂŁ800. The government’s reaponse to Covid was…ÂŁ600 bn? This article is divorced from reality .

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
10 months ago

This is rather muddled. Yes, the young female farmer says she won’t vote Tory. This is in no way evidence that she or others will vote Labour or Green. Indeed, the Green vote is most likely town types who have relocated and taken it upon themselves to deliver sermons to the locals. Cooper’s remarks in now way guarantee any increase in rural policing and theft of livestock and machinery might be seen as a bit more than ‘antisocial behaviour’.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
10 months ago

This is rather muddled. Yes, the young female farmer says she won’t vote Tory. This is in no way evidence that she or others will vote Labour or Green. Indeed, the Green vote is most likely town types who have relocated and taken it upon themselves to deliver sermons to the locals. Cooper’s remarks in now way guarantee any increase in rural policing and theft of livestock and machinery might be seen as a bit more than ‘antisocial behaviour’.

Timothy Baker
Timothy Baker
3 months ago

Lewis may be an old market town, but two of the major local employers are local government and Sussex University, a few miles down the road at Falmer. Students may choose in live in trendy Brighton, but a lot of admin and teaching staff prefer Lewes. I personally doubt that Maria Caulfield, excellent MP though she is, will survive the next General Election, despite the fact she is a hard worker and has achieved good results for her constituents.

Robbie K
Robbie K
10 months ago

The author always seems to thrive on the cynical and nihilistic. Awful content.

Stuart McCullough
Stuart McCullough
10 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Says a Townie, no doubt.

Robbie K
Robbie K
10 months ago

You get an uptick for that. The ‘countryside’ is an illusion that folks like Lewis-Stempel prefer to perpetuate, building this grand vision of how they are custodians of nature being oppressed by wicked government legislation. Truth is they will turn anything for a buck, virtues and morals are instantly forgotten if something is affecting the profit margin. And I can guarantee the livestock disappearances are fraudulent insurance claims – moving animals is a long, difficult and noisy business, amazing therefore how they mysteriously vanish without being noticed.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Quite.. one just has to look at all the ghastly urban middles out on let days in their shiny too new shooting kit….

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Quite.. one just has to look at all the ghastly urban middles out on let days in their shiny too new shooting kit….

Robbie K
Robbie K
10 months ago

You get an uptick for that. The ‘countryside’ is an illusion that folks like Lewis-Stempel prefer to perpetuate, building this grand vision of how they are custodians of nature being oppressed by wicked government legislation. Truth is they will turn anything for a buck, virtues and morals are instantly forgotten if something is affecting the profit margin. And I can guarantee the livestock disappearances are fraudulent insurance claims – moving animals is a long, difficult and noisy business, amazing therefore how they mysteriously vanish without being noticed.

Stuart McCullough
Stuart McCullough
10 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Says a Townie, no doubt.

Robbie K
Robbie K
10 months ago

The author always seems to thrive on the cynical and nihilistic. Awful content.