Town and Country Share Same Enemy

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon Oct 7 15:41:42 BST 2002

Town and country share the same enemy

Actually, all that is happening is that the vulnerable are being betrayed,
over and over again
By Deborah Orr
The Independent
24 September 2002

What a ghastly thing it is, this ideological antagonism that has been
stirred up anew between town and country. And what idiots partisans on both
sides of the treacherous divide are making of themselves. All reason has
been abandoned as country champions struggle to disguise the single focus
they have chosen to highlight among the multitudinous troubles of the
countryside, and urban zealots fight to keep it at the forefront of
everyone's thoughts.

This single focus, unbelievably, astoundingly, heaven help us all ñ is fox
hunting. This issue is so far down my list of iniquities committed by human
beings against animals and against each other that to me it barely exists.
Yet for some years now this quaintly anachronistic minority ritual has been
treated as if it is one of the final barriers in the pursuit of human

It also, shamefully, has been allowed to become a major part of the
political agenda. For decades Britain has been entertained on New Year's Day
by the antics of those anti-globalisation precursors, the hunt-sabs. They
were the people who raised consciousness around the fox hunting issue, when
they could have spent their time working for worthier, more important, but
less fun causes instead.

Why didn't they? Because they too loved the thrill of the chase, the drama
of the class frisson, the immediacy of the promise of blood and death in the
air. They vastly enjoyed being in the icy morning fields of Britain for a
very definite purpose, even though they preferred to keep only to the moral
high ground.

How funny it is that the New Labour government is willing to go so far out
on a limb to deliver the elderly demands of those activists, even though the
very same people, under this same government, are coralled by police behind
riot shields for protesting against little things like poverty, disease,
pain, hunger, despair and death for human children in a world of plenty. How
much easier it is to ban the anthropomorphic projection of cruelty on to a
wild creature than it is to wade in and sort that lot out.

That point, of course, is something of a callow, obvious and cheap clichÈ.
All I can say in my defence is that it isn't just me. This whole debate is
enmired in cheap clichÈ. My feeling is that the clichÈ comes because the
debate underlying it is essentially bogus. What other reason can there be
for the acres of claptrap it inspires?

One fellow claims that he is abandoning cattle farming because "the badgers
are running out of control, spreading disease. He'd kill them if he could
but the modern nanny state will not permit it."

Leaving aside the fact that farmers appear to want the nanny state to
intervene in a nannyish way to preserve an uneconomic way of life, can we
just think for a moment about this cattle-farmer's great ill-fortune?
Imagine surviving BSE, foot-and-mouth, the appallingly poor price beef
cattle are still fetching, the tiny farm-gate prices being paid by
supermarkets for milk (and all else), the competition from lightly regulated
meat imported from abroad, and then finally being beaten by badgers. I bet a
lot of farmers wish they had troubles like that guy's.

Then there is John Mortimer. Until recently he seemed eccentrically wedded
to moderation and good sense. Now he sums up the woolly abandonment of logic
that characterises the rhetoric of so many of those campaigning for "liberty
and livelihood". "Tony Blair," he claims, "has watched the slow death of

Mr Mortimer's "argument" is that "New Labour's intolerance" has "forced the
countryside into action." But if Mr Blair really has "watched the slow death
of the countryside", then isn't he the last person to be held responsible
for it? I mean, the guy's a twit in many ways, and that
rabbit-in-the-headlights promise to ban fox hunting on Question Time was a
classic of idiocy. But he's only been Prime Minister since 1997. If the
countryside has been suffering a slow death, then he's only been in power
long enough to have a hand in the end-game. I know a week is a long time in
politics. But I thought a year was a fairly short time in harvest and
husbandry. Does "the country" consider five years to be a very long time?
Maybe it does. Maybe it is asking for an enormous fox to be set on it,
killing it quickly and with dignity, after a stimulating gallop across the

Whoops, no, I must stop. There is a tendency, in the evil, metropolitan
press, for the countryside's anger to be mocked. Last Friday, in the run-up
to the march, even Newsnight hazarded a quip. The threat of the Countryside
Alliance to bring the capital to a standstill was met with the weary
comment: "They appear to believe this is something we're not used to."

But urban hauteur was, in the end, shaken. London is not, in fact, used to
demonstrations of the size and dignity witnessed on Sunday. Liberty and
Livelihood was quite something (what exactly, being more difficult to
quantify). Yet while two years of planning and £1m in funding contributed to
the operational success of the march, it seems to have made opponents of
hunting keen to expand their side of the argument as well, again to include
absolutely everything.

Brian Reade, the Daily Mirror columnist, is a brilliant commentator. But
when he says that "I'll admit that there is a thirst for revenge here, about
getting back at traditional Tory supporters by doing to them what they did
to us 18 years ago", my blood runs cold. Mr Reade is talking about the
destruction of heavy industry, and the fact that no country conservatives
marched on London to protest against the dismantling of that tradition. But
he appears to have fallen for the odd idea, propagated by that mistress of
agitprop Beatrix Potter, that there are town people and country people, with
never the twain ever meeting.

But actually, all that's happening is that the vulnerable are being
betrayed, over and over again. My mother's father lost his farm in the early
1940s. My own father lost his heavy industry job in the early 1990s. The
dismantling of heavy industry and the dismantling of the agricultural
industry are part of the same process. The process, of course, is
globalisation, and it is terrible that we have all allowed this crucial fact
to be obscured by the elevation of fox hunting into some totemic measure of
our civilisation.

Those who feel so passionately that fox hunting should be banned are just as
much to blame as those out baying for blood all season. Both sides, in
pointing out the vast gulf between the town sensibility and the country
sensibility, serve to hide the fact that everyone is suffering ñ and
exploiting ñ the same painful, alienating changes.

Local shops closing, small businesses failing, buses being utterly
unreliable, education crumbling, crime rising, low wages, high property
prices ñ this is the stuff that city folks are leaving town to escape from.
And even though they are hated and resented as the people who are killing
the countryside, magically, plenty of people are willing to sell up to the
vile townies.

That's the trouble with globalisation. Everybody knows it's killing
livelihood and liberty, in the country and in the town. But if there's a
profit to be had from it, then most people are already limited enough in
livelihood and liberty to take it, no questions asked. Fox hunting may be
vicious, but at least it's not a vicious circle. The town versus country
debate can never be anything else.

d.orr at
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The primal screams of the well-to-do. tranquility at all times and in all countries is always 
advanced by the cries of anguish of the affluent. They have a much 
deeper sense of personal injustice than the poor and a far greater 
capacity for indignation. And when the poor hear the primal screams 
of the well-to-do, they imagine that the fortunate are really 
suffering and became more contented with their own lot. Good 
statesmanship has always required not only the comforting of the 
afflicted but the afflicting of the comfortable - John Kenneth 
Galbraith in Almost Everyone's Guide to Economics. 


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