Thursday, 25 June 2009

Country Roads, Take Me Home

Gareth Thomas is a Minister of State in the appalling Department for International Development, the enemy of Saint Helena, against whose interest it will happily spend far more money than would be the cost of doing the right thing by that community of British citizens living on British territory, and so not properly the province of that Department at all.

He is also the MP for Harrow West, which he probably thinks is in the countryside. And he is responsible for a scheme to pay supermarkets to import foreign food instead of using readily available domestic produce.

Of course I know that there is far more to the countryside than agriculture. But New Labour's dislocation from both is mind-boggling, and a sign of just how far removed from Labour's history it is. Far from being an atavistically urban phenomenon, Labour's earliest heartlands - in the Twenties, when it first became possible to speak of safe Labour seats - were very largely county divisions, in the Welsh valleys, in Nottinghamshire, in Derbyshire, in the West Riding, and here in County Durham. Yes, they contained a lot of mining. But they also contained a lot of farming. And, unlike with mining, they still do.

By contrast, Labour failed to hold a single Manchester or Sheffield seat at the 1931 Election. I am open to correction, but I think that Labour never had an MP in Birmingham until 1945 apart from Mosley's brief sojourn in the party, and I am practically certain that it never returned a Liverpool MP until 1945 either. There are other such examples. Inroads into urban areas were often, as here in the North East, on the back of existing strength in the surrounding countryside.

Real agriculture is a mainstay of strong communities, environmental responsibility and animal welfare, and a clear example of the importance of central and local government action in safeguarding and delivering social, cultural, political and environmental goods against the ravages of the "free" market. Working farmers sat as Labour MPs between the Wars.

Farm labourers, smallholders, crofters and others were once organised to secure radical reforms, including rural amenities such as schools, medical facilities, Post Offices, and so on. The Attlee Government created the Green Belt and the National Parks. But where is it all now? Where are today's successors of those who opposed the destruction of the national rail and bus networks? Who is fighting for affordable housing in the countryside, and for planning laws and procedures that take account of rural needs?

And so on, and on, and on.

Instead, we have a Government which is determined to bankrupt the agricultural sector, at least, once and for all.


  1. Youre absolutely right about Liverpool. And indeed Labour has only occasionally controlled the City Council.
    Of course a century ago Liverpool elected an MP who was an Irish Nationalist.
    This orange-green split in Liverpool has only recently waned. Liverpool being a more intolerant City (despite all those lovable scally scousers) than Manchester (liberal and Guardian producing).

    Somewhat inevitable that Labours internal divisions in 1931 would have had a demoralising and losing effect on its potential industrial northern heartland.

    I can see absolutely no redeeming features in the people living in the English countryside.
    The antipathy towards them by Labour is understandable. I am old enough to remember a pre-election poll Farmers (admittedly not the entire countryside) commissioned for BBCs Farming programme circa 1983 or 1987 which stated that exactly ZERO % supported the Labour Party (much to the chagrin of the party agriculture spokesman who was a Welshman Brymor John I believe

  2. Labour only ever had a minority of the farming vote, but it was historically an influential minority. And, as you say, there is a lot more to rural Britain than the farmers, anyway.

    Manchester hasn't produced the Guardian for quite a while now. And I have only just noticed, but all four of the cities listed in this post now have non-Labour councils. Whereas Labour still runs County Durham, the first council that it ever won, and which it has never lost since.

    By contrast, alleged strongholds like Newcastle (Lib Dem-run now, anyway) and Glasgow had Tory councils into the Seventies, in Glasgow's case well into the Seventies.

    But New Labour never seems to notice. It inhabits a Golden Triangle of upmarket Edinburgh, upmarket Glasgow and upmarket London. And its roots are on the sectarian Left, not in the Labour Movement.

  3. This piece starts off with a mention of Gareth Thomas, but then changes the subject. Why bring him up? And why would he think that Harrow is in the countryside, given that he knows Harrow far better than you or I do?

  4. You didn't get as far as the second paragraph, then.

    Harrow is as rural as New Labour gets.

  5. Obviously New Labour has never been dominant in rural areas, but it gets more rural than Harrow. What about Stroud? Or Sedgefield? Or North West Durham? Or Workington? Or West Lancashire? Or Bassetlaw? Or Copeland? Or Dorset South? I could go on...

  6. Harrow has been as rural as Labour (New or Old) ever got.
    Agriculture spokesmen have traditionally come from areas where Labour MPs hada swathe of countryside in their constituency.

    The afore-mentioned Brynmor John. The risible Fred Peart in I believe Workington and "Dr" Jack Cunningham (son of Andrew of infamy) in the same general area.

  7. How many of those seats is NuLab going to keep, Prema? At least Old Labour never deliberately set out to bankrupt the countryside.

  8. "Harrow has been as rural as Labour (New or Old) ever got"

    That simply isn't true, and is an old, old Tory myth contrary to the plain facts of the matter. Harrow is in London, for goodness sake.

    Anonymous, quite so. In fact, Jim Callaghan had a farm. Attlee's Agriculture Minister (whose name escapes me - it'll come back in a minute) was possibly the only occupant of the office ever to be well-liked by the farmers. And so on.

  9. Lord Carter, Tony Blair's first Lords Chief Whip, was a farmer.

  10. And where is he now? Where will he be when Gareth Thomas has paid the supermarkets (great friends of New Labour, but not of the farmers) to refuse to buy his produce?

  11. North West Durham, Workington, West Lancashire, Bassetlaw, Copeland, all Labour seats anyway Preema. Nothing to do with Blairism.

  12. Where is he now? He died of cancer about two years ago. I really don't think this is New Labour's fault.

  13. Oh, I see, so you're attacking Blairism for failing to capture the rural bits of Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Devon and so on, are you, Anonymous 17.41. Well, fair enough, but I don't think Old Labour's record was great there either.

  14. Quentin Davies is a farmer. Whatever you think of him, Old Labour he ain't.

  15. No indeed, Stack, he's far too pro-EU for that.

    Preema, the single seat of Cambridgeshire was Labour in its day, and very nearly so for decades before that.

  16. Id forgotten Gavin Edinburgh, he is a farmers son.
    While the Celtic fringe (and I include Cumbria)is not entirely anti Labour, the same cannot be said for the shires.
    Any Labour politician getting the Agriculture brief or portfolio has drawn the short straw.
    Why should Labour court the farmers. Whiney malcontents.
    Farmers and Labour (the Party praised by Simon Jenkins) just dont mix.
    The City of London bankers and Labour dont mix either.
    The flirtation between "new" Labour and the City has been a disaster for Labour.
    Having any rapport with Farmers would be equally disasterous.

  17. Which shires? Nottinghamshire? Derbyshire? Yorkshire? Lancashire? They were returning Labour MPs long before almost anywhere in the cities. And yes, I do mean their rural areas.

    Farmers don't like the Tories either, really. But in any case, their interests could not be further from those of the City. Agriculture is, rightly and necessarily, for all practical purposes a nationalised industry. It has been so at least since the War, and it is a very good example of why state action in the economy is both necessary and beneficial.

  18. Farmers dont like any political party.
    They buy into the myth of the independent yeoman stock. Of course they are the most heavily subsidised sector....apart of course from the friends of Labour in the City.

  19. Which is very recent, and wrong.

    Whereas agricultural subsidies are long-established, and right.

    While they exist, they are a standing contradiction of neoloberal economics. Thatcher never squared that circle, and nor can anyone else.

  20. "And he is responsible for a scheme to pay supermarkets to import foreign food instead of using readily available domestic produce."

    But would that even be legal?

  21. Apparently so. These goods are from the developing world, not the EU.