1 September 2000

New approach to protesting

LABOUR MPs are likely to greeted by a different sort of rural protest when they gather for their annual party conference in Brighton later this month.

The majority of plans for demonstrations by the countryside and farming campaigners are still to be finalised. But early indications are that there will be no repeat of last years rally which saw thousands of protesters descend on Bournemouth to express their concern at the governments handling of rural issues.

The Countryside Alliance has ruled out any repeat of its protest which last year mobilised around 16,000 of its supporters. This year the organisation plans to have series of floats travelling through Brighton. A different rural issue will be highlighted by a different float each day during a procession of 1500 people along the sea-front.

Farming would be the one highlighted on Mon Sept 25 – the first day of the conference. "This will enable us to repay some of the debt we owe to the farming community for the support it has shown us in the past," explained an alliance briefing document.

After a series of meetings this week, the NFU confirmed that it had no plans to repeat last years rally which saw about 4000 disgruntled farmers march through Bournemouth. Instead, the union has invited MPs and other Labour delegates to a farmers market on the eve of the conference.

A union spokeswoman said: "The idea is to send a positive message to government and to show how farmers are using their initiative to fight back. It will also highlight the high quality of British food and promote the British Farm Standard."

The National Pig Association, which ran the high-profile pig vigil outside Houses of Commons earlier this year, said it had no plans to hold its own demonstration. A representative would talk to MPs but Winnie the pig was unlikely to make another appearance because of the costs attached, said an NPA spokeswoman.