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Rural Beef
July/August 2009

The recent county council election results were overshadowed by cabinet ministers resigning and Gordon Brown's struggle to stay in control. Commentators seemed more concerned with Caroline Flint's dresses than the fact that Labour no longer represents a single county council in England. How can the government represent the country when whole swathes have no elected Labour representatives at any level?

The countryside feels neglected: from ramblers' rights to petrol prices, farmers and rural communities believe they are both ignored and misunderstood. While ministers fight for the car factories in their urban-sprawl constituencies, those of us who live in the country know our concerns are rarely taken into account by Whitehall. It is untenable that the governing party should be a purely urban party — just as it was untenable when the Conservatives lost support in the cities.

In rural areas, people are worried about the closure of Post Offices, local shops and pubs. Farmers worry about tuberculosis in cattle. 

Our small businesses — the main employers in rural areas — are struggling in the credit crunch but the government only seems to help big business in areas where it gets votes.

These are important issues but so is representation. Our democracy is based on equality. Yet there is little equality between urban and rural electorates. The fact that the Boundary Commission has tried to even out the differences is a good sign, but there are still huge discrepancies. 

Take, for example, Manchester Central and compare it to my local seat, Somerton & Frome. In 2005, the Manchester constituency had an electorate of 66,141 and a turnout of 41 per cent. In Somerset it was 75,199 with just under 70 per cent voting. Both seats have one MP, yet owing to the difference in electorates, more people voted for the Conservatives who came second in Somerton & Frome than the Labour winner in Manchester. Since the latest boundary changes, which are based on the 2001 census, Somerton & Frome has grown to over 82,000. The electorate of Manchester Central remains under 70,000. The differences are getting bigger. No wonder the countryside feels aggrieved. 

We need a government that treats rural, urban and suburban issues equally. The countryside needs MPs to represent them from within government. As a nation, we need fairer representation by cutting MPs in areas with lower populations. It would be good for democracy and it would be good for the taxpayer.

 
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