Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh told Labour?s annual conference last week: ?The fight to keep England?s forests for the people showed this land is our land. And we?re not going to be kept off it. Labour is the party of the countryside.?
Almost unbelievable, isn?t it? How can a frontbencher from a political party of any colour be considered to have even a shred of credibility when they spout such brass-necked rubbish?
As I have said many times before, we cannot really trust any political party when it comes to rural issues in general, and fieldsports in particular. There are some very good Labour MPs (Kate Hoey comes to mind) and some dire Tories (remember Ann Widdecombe?). But only one political party, as an entity, set out deliberately to demonise hunters for political purposes. And that party was Labour.
Labour also turned the right to roam in England and Wales into a ?people versus toffs? argument, stigmatising smallholders, hill farmers and other decent rural people. According to propaganda at the time, anybody who had concerns about the imposition of the right to roam across their private property was either an evil landowner or a mere lackey of that detested class. Who can forget the loathsome John (now Lord) Prescott, deriding ?the contorted faces? of rural protesters and screeching ?Right to roam!? at them from behind the safety of his bodyguards?
With Ms Creagh?s latest utterances, we see the Labour Party trying to portray itself as the champion of the downtrodden rural peasantry ? how patronising is that? But then, inventing empathy with the supposedly poor is a trick that urban Labourites frequently employ.
I should tell you about a recent letter to The Guardian from a gaggle of left-wing lawyers. These legal fat cats were squealing that the current Government is considering toughening-up the law on squatting in England and Wales. The pretext for this synthetic concern is that it might affect the homeless, would you believe. Now, squatting is already a criminal offence in Scotland, but south of the border it is only a civil offence so the police normally refuse to get involved. Instead, the poor homeowner is faced with the horrendous legal costs of the procedure to recover his or her home. And even when they eventually do so, it is almost impossible to recover the cost of repairing the inevitable damage and the thieving of power supplies.
More recently, after a number of high-profile horror stories, the coalition seems to be intending to inject some fairness and common sense into the legal process, and copy the sensible Scots. Just as well, given that an Englishman?s home is supposed to be his castle.
Anyway, what has this got to do with Labour and its claim to be the party of the countryside? Well, I?ll tell you. There are a number of websites set up to help squatters help themselves to other people?s hard-earned homes (some of these parasites actually get legal aid). I was examining one the other day. And there, among the deeply cynical justifications for this nefarious activity, was mention of the notorious 1932 Kinder Scout mass trespass, which is today celebrated by some as the inspiration for the right to roam. The website in question boasts that the mass trespass (an unlawful act, where a huge mob of militants infl icted violence on gamekeepers) was a significant step in removing the ?exclusivity? of property ownership. In short, according to some leading lights in the professional squatting community, occupying somebody else?s dwelling is part of a continuum that started with trespass in the countryside.
No wonder all those lefty lawyers are brimming with carefully orchestrated outrage. And no wonder Labour?s shadow environment secretary is claiming that ?this land is our land?. They are all of a piece.
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