Saturday, July 26, 2008

House Points: Country thoughts from Shropshire

My House Points column from yesterday's Liberal Democrat News. A bit of a stream of consciousness, it was written in Shrewsbury Reference Library on Monday.

Country carping

With Parliament winding down for the summer, there is just time for a last visit to the minister for fish. Jonathan Shaw, you will be pleased to learn, is working to reduce the impact of American crayfish on our native British species. The American variety is bigger and more aggressive – quite possibly it has more money and wears loud check trousers too.

Similarly, mink – many of which were released into the wild by misguided and self-elected "animal rights activists" – are undermining all the work done on behalf of water voles. They are doing it through the highly effective tactic of eating them.

A fair-minded observer adds: Goodness, what lovely coats mink have!

A bitter water vole replies: Goodness had nothing to do with it.

Everyone loves water voles, perhaps because of Ratty from The Wind in the Willows. But another character from the book is less popular in some quarters: Mr Badger.

Rural MPs – Tory and Lib Dem – are loud in their demands for a cull of badgers to fight bovine TB. Yet the most authoritative study on the subject concluded that "badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain" and might even makes things worse.

I have limited sympathy for the "You town folks don’t understand our country ways" line of argument. And the farming interest often displays the adolescent sense of unreasonable entitlement you find among those who live on state subsidies for any length of time.

But, particularly as I am on holiday in the English countryside this week, I do understand why there is such disaffection among rural voters. Here in Shropshire the post offices are going and many village schools are threatened with closure too. Even the remaining telephone boxes have signs saying that they are about to be removed.

How far Roger Williams’s campaign for cheaper petrol in rural areas is in accord with advanced Lib Dem thinking on the nation’s carbon footprint, I do not know. But it has certainly struck a chord here.

You can find postcards advertising it in the petrol station in Bishop’s Castle. Not only is that not in Roger’s Brecon and Radnor constituency, it is not even in the same country.

No comments: