8 June 2001
Plan rural recovery, Labour told

By Donald MacPhail

COUNTRYSIDE leaders have urged the new Labour Government to put rural issues at the centre of its agenda and introduce a recovery plan.

Labour was swept back to power in the early hours of Friday (08 June) morningr by a landslide, with an expected 414 seats to just 167 for the Conservatives.

Tory leader William Hague announced his resignation after his disastrous showing in the polls, while the LibDems celebrated General Election gains.

However, fewer than six in 10 voters bothered to cast their votes, the lowest turnout since 1918.

Labour is predicted to win 414 seats, the Conservatives 167, the LibDems 52 and others 26. In the last parliament, Labour had 418 MPs, the Tories 165 and the LibDems 46.

Farmers Union of Wales president Bob Parry urged Tony Blair to keep the crisis in the countryside at the top of the political agenda.

“Now that the General Election is over, I am seeking a commitment from the Prime Minister that the problems facing farming will remain top of the political agenda,” he said.

“I do not want to see agricultures problems sidelined in any way.”

Mr Parry said he would be pushing for a young entrants scheme to ensure farming in Wales had a future, and for clearer food labelling.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said it would be looking for the Government to implement the rural white paper and introduce a rural recovery plan.

“We look forward to working with the new government and help them to shape the new department of rural affairs to benefit the rural economy and the countryside,” said a spokeswoman.

But as Tony Blair begins the first day of his second term of office, speculation is rife that agriculture minister Nick Brown could be the victim of a cabinet reshuffle.

The Daily Mail says casualties of a reshuffle later today are expected to include Mr Brown, while other sources also say the minister is set to go.

It is expected that Mr Blair will announce a new department of rural affairs to replace the Ministry of Agriculture.

Mr Brown has been criticised for his handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis, the swine-fever outbreak and the French beef ban.

The agriculture minister comfortably held his seat in Newcastle upon Tyne East & Wallsend, although there was an 8.45% swing to the LibDems.

His Tory shadow Tim Yeo and LibDem rural affairs spokesman Colin Breed also held their seats at Suffolk South and Cornwall South East respectively.

Rural campaigners seeking to highlight countryside concerns failed to pull off any election shocks.

Farmer and fuel protester Andrew Spence, standing for the UK Independence Party, polled 974 votes in Mr Blairs Sedgefield constituency.

Countryside Party candidate Jim Crawford took 265 votes at LibDem leader Charles Kennedys Ross, Skye and Inverness West constituency.

In Harwich, Clive Lawrance – who stood as an independent candidate supported by pig farmers to highlight the issue of illegally imported meat – polled 247 votes.

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