YP Comment: Hunt is on for a rural champion. Brexit alone will not suffice

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HOW TIMES change. Twenty years ago, Tony Blair was the politician who could seemingly do no wrong as he took the electoral fight to the Tories while promising, at the same time, to outlaw hunting.

Fast forward two decades and Mr Blair’s reputation is much tarnished, largely because of his mishandling of the Iraq invasion while his hunting legislation, when finally passed, had a negligible impact.

Leaving aside the irony that MPs actually spent more time debating the pros and cons of hunting than the deployment of British troops to the Middle East, the Boxing Day hunts – and the public’s show of support – once again prompted questions about the futility of New Labour’s dogma.

However, while this issue still generates polarising and passionately-held views, hunts are not totally emblematic of a rural economy which has been overlooked for too long by the more urban-centric of Westminster’s leaders.

In case they haven’t realised, countryside communities are fighting for their future existence as farming families are priced out of Yorkshire’s rural heartlands as key services become unsustainable due to spending cuts. It’s a vicious circle made worse by rural broadband’s indequacies.

Yet, while this ambivalence was expected under Labour which only took a fleeting interest in rural matters when the foot-and-mouth epidemic delayed the 2001 election, rural residents had every right to expect better from the Conservatives, the traditional party of the countryside. As such, Theresa May needs to remember that Brexit, alone, will not be sufficient to appease those ‘shire’ voters who feel neglected, and with good reason. And here’s the irony. One of the most high-profile Leave campaigners, Andrea Leadsom, has, in the past six months, been one of the most low-profile Environment Secretaries. Rural areas deserve better.

Sign of the times

LIKE it or not, traffic restrictions exist for good reason – namely to keep vehicles moving in the region’s town and city centres.

It’s the same with bus lanes – their existence makes public transport a more attractive proposition and reduces car dependency.

If the rules of the road are not enforced, and ordinary drivers allowed to use these special lanes with impunity, it defeats the object of the exercise.

That said, local authorities are honour-bound to provide clear signs – and there’s growing evidence to suggest that some councils are failing with this requirement.

This is highlighted by the high percentage of out-of-town drivers who are receiving penalty charges for inadvertently straying into bus lanes.

Though they, as the driver, are ultimately responsible, there’s a belief that some cameras are being deliberately positioned to raise as much revenue as possible for the local authorities concerned.

If there’s a spike in the number of motoring offences at a particular location, it would be better – for all concerned – if councils reviewed the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the signs at the location in question rather than simply squeezing every last penny out of drivers who have come, in recent times, to feel persecuted by national and local government alike.

After all, there are far more motoring offences which cause a far greater threat to road safety and which demand zero tolerance enforcement – namely the generation of drivers who still think it is acceptable to use their mobile phone while they’re behind the wheel.

Top of the shops

AFTER families shopped until they dropped in the frantic build-up to Christmas, there was a pause for a few hours before they started bargain-hunting on their mobile devices while the turkey was being carved before hitting the High Streets in force for the traditional Boxing Day sales.

Yet, while this year’s festive period has, thankfully, not witnessed the demise of a favourite national retailer, an all-too-frequent occurrence in recent years, what does it say about contemporary society when people can’t survive a day without the need to go to the shops?

And while the ubiquitous big chains can afford to heavily discount headline-grabbing items as ‘loss leaders’, spare a thought, once again, for the small, independent shops – the heartbeat of so many high streets. Already in a fight for survival, this obsession with the sales makes it even harder for them to compete in Britain’s 24/7 retail economy that now does not even stop for Christmas.