LIKE all previous party conferences, rural affairs will be lucky to receive a cursory mention at this year’s Labour and Tory gatherings. And while Brexit is proving, with reason, to be all-consuming, this issue is integral to food production and its future.
It’s why the intervention by David Kerfoot, chairman of the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, is so prescient. He makes the cogent argument on today’s business pages for the wider rural economy to be given as much focus as policies for the country’s cities.
Mr Kerfoot, who succeeded the late Barry Dodd in this key role, wants North Yorkshire to become a vibrant home for home for small businesses, and that improvements to both transport and digital connectivity are key to fulfilling this objective.
Yet when did national politicians last address them? Sue Hayman, the Shadow Environment Secretary, remains one of the lowest-profile members of Jeremy Corbyn’s top team and has little, if any, name recognition outside of her Workington constituency.
And, while Michael Gove is, in fairness, a high-profile Environment Secretary, he and his deputy George Eustice, the Farming Minister, are so pre-occupied with their Brexit battles that responsibility for rural affairs falls to the little known Lord Gardiner of Kimble. Yet, while the peer has been a leading light in the Countryside Alliance and Tory party, he’s not even answerable to elected MPs because he’s a member of the unelected House of Lords. If the rural economy is to meet its potential, it needs to be given priority treatment by Britian’s political parties. If not now, when?