02 March 1998
Countryside march served its purpose
By Boyd Champness
THE Government was forced to sit up and take notice of rural Britains grievances yesterday as more than 250,000 country people took over the streets of London in protest.
The Countryside March – which brought hunters, farmers, farm workers, landowners, shooters, anglers and rural business people together under the one banner – was hailed a huge success by its organisers, The Countryside Alliance.
Scanning the huge crowd, the march was essentially a pro-hunting demonstration with a mish-mash of other interest groups making up the numbers. The farming industry was definitely well represented, but the powerful hunt lobby stood out.
Perhaps it was the case that their numbers were stronger in the first wave of marchers, as the huge crowd continued to meander its way to Hyde Park five to six four hours after the official start.
Nevertheless, the impression was left that it didnt matter what particular lobby group you supported, as long as it was pro-countryside.
And that was the exact sentiment expressed by National Farmers Union president Ben Gill, who said it was important to view the demonstration as a single vote for rural Britain.
“The important thing is that all these groups have put aside their differences in support of the countryside,” he said.
Mr Gill, who was at the front of the march with other NFU leaders, said the size of the march revealed the “level of concern and the unity of approach” of country people.
He said Labour was elected on the back of people power – something ministers seem to have forgotten – and the march was a reminder to government of the discontent sweeping rural Britain.
“And I think this demonstration will go down in history as the biggest demonstration of people power in the last 50 years.”
Complaints that politicians had attempted to “hijack” the event to bolster their election prospects were played down by a diplomatic Mr Gill. He said if MPs or ministers were “passionate” about the countryside and wanted to march with their constituents, then that was their right.
However, it was just as well Mr Gill and the NFU team were not wearing long coats yesterday because they would have been repeatedly stepped on by one shadow minister eager to be affiliated with the NFU and its cause.