Blair snubs south-west farmers

3 February 2000

Blair snubs south-west farmers

By FWi staff

TONY Blair has snubbed farmers on the first day of his trip to the south west, instead preferring to visit a university and a science park.

The Prime Minister began his tour by unveiling a government report which claims that country dwellers have never had it so good – despite the crisis in agriculture.

But angry farmers say the Prime Minister has refused to meet them, and that his claims about the countryside show he is out of touch with reality.

The Cabinet Office survey says rural residents have better schools, lower unemployment, lower crime figures and a higher life expectancy than their urban counterparts.

However, the weighty report also highlights some of the problems facing the countryside.

Nearly half of rural parishes have no school or permanent shop; 83% have no GP; 75% have no daily bus service; and 22% no bus service at all.

This report follows a speech to the National Farmers Union annual general meeting on Tuesday (01 February) in which Mr Blair told farmers there could be no “short-term fix” to the industrys plight.

He urged producers to diversify and embrace new technology such as the Internet.

In what many see as an attempt to prove that theres more to the countryside than farming, Mr Blairs first-day itinerary avoids any visit to a farm.

The London Evening Standard reports that Mr Blair was scheduled to visit Exeter University, a Plymouth science park, and announce new jobs at telephone company Eurobell.

Other reports said Mr Blair was planning to visit a farm theme park as part of the second days itinerary.

The tour is seen by many as a charm offensive to tackle the view that the government has failed the countryside.

Commenting on the report, Mr Blair said: “Parts of farming in this country are in crisis, but this report shows that the countryside is not.

“I acknowledge that there are problems facing rural Britain, and we are working hard to tackle them.

“The challenge of modernisation is every bit as relevant to rural Britain as to urban Britain.

“But this report shows that rural Britain is well-placed to help build and share in the countrys rising prosperity and living standards.”

He insisted the government both understood and cared about the countryside.

Earlier, former Devon NFU president Richard Haddock had criticised the Prime Minister for not asking for a meeting.

He said: “Im amazed. It seems hell do anything to shun me.

“Ive had angry farmers on the phone all weekend asking why Im not meeting the Prime Minister.”

David Hill, deputy chairman of Devon NFU, said Mr Blair “must be from a different planet” if he believed the countryside was better off than towns.

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