January 17: Total betrayal of rural Yorkshire

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DO BRITAIN’s major political parties want the rural economy to prosper – or not? It is a question that has even more relevance at the culmination of a challenging week for the agricultural industry as dairy farmers fight for their future existence and Defra threatens to withdraw vital funding from Rural Action Yorkshire – the one body tasked with championing the interests of countryside communities locally.

Yet the response of the country’s political elite has, frankly, been insulting to those families whose livelihoods are on the line. While John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, did consent on Monday to an urgent question being asked about the latest atrocities to be perpetuated by the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria, no such intervention has taken place on behalf of the crisis-hit dairy industry.

And when Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans did get the chance to ask for an early debate on Thursday, the Tory backbencher was fobbed off by Commons leader William Hague who advised his colleague “to pursue the need... through all the normal methods”. In spite of the discussions taking place between Defra officials and the National Farmers’ Union, it was a very hollow answer given the lightness of Parliament’s legislative programme ahead of the election and that the outgoing Mr Hague represents a predominantly rural constituency. His to move to his new £2.5m home in Wales to pursue his writing career obviously cannot come soon enough.

This impasse must not be allowed to continue. The dairy industry does matter, it is part of Britain’s national fabric, and it is important that established groups like Rural Action Yorkshire have the scope to champion those farm businesses who do not come under the auspices of local enterprise partnerships and other Government-backed bodies which have been set up to nurture growth in uthe county’s cities.

As such, it is essential that the specific challenges facing the countryside are not overlooked by those politicians standing for election on May 7. After all, the MPs returned to Westminster will be tasked with representing all – and that includes farmers and those working in related industries linked to the production of food and the wider rural economy.

Tuition fees trust: Miliband’s university challenge

HOW hypocritical of Ed Miliband to use yesterday’s campaign rally in Sheffield to accuse Nick Clegg of damaging trust in politics when the Lib Dem leader broke his promise on university tuition fees of the 2010 election. After all, the Labour leader is yet to confirm whether his party will reduce the cap from £9,000 to £6,000 if elected in May, and how this pledge will be funded after the Opposition signed up to £30bn of spending cuts.

If the Doncaster North MP is being sincere when it comes to trust, he must be far more transparent with his spending commitments – especially as Labour is intent on courting the student vote in those marginal constituencies where universities are located. It is why Mr Miliband was also crying foul over the decline in the number of registered votes in these university seats, and that this was the direct result of registration changes instigated by

Mr Clegg, and David Cameron, to counter voter fraud.

However it is not the

job of universities to register students en masse. It should be the duty of the young people concerned, as responsible adults,

to ensure that their

details are correctly included on the electoral roll.

If an individual has been omitted because of poor organisation, it is not the Government’s fault.

Ethel’s death is end of an era

HOW ironic that the death of Barnsley’s Ethel Lang, the last known survivor of Queen Victoria’s reign, should have been announced on the very morning it was confirmed that the The Beagle2 spacecraft did land on Mars.

It is symptomatic of the pace of scientific change that have taken place in the 114 years since Mrs Lang was born in the South Yorkshire mining town during the final months of Queen Victoria’s life. The Barnsley of today is unrecognisable to May 1900 when it was a heartbeat of British manufacturing.

Her passing marks the end of an era and the last link to a bygone age which could not be further removed from the scientific innovation and endeavour of today. And, while Britain is much the better for this social and industrial evolution, the demise of mining being an exception, it was probably Mrs Lang’s fortune that she grew up at a time when respect and deference mattered. If only this was so in the infancy of a new century.