The reasons why England and Wales voted so convincingly for a Conservative Government on Thursday will be debated forever, but one of the most obvious is the complete rejection of both Labour and Liberal Democrats in any constituency that has a hint of the countryside about it. This is graphically illustrated by the post-election constituency map. Actually, suggesting that the voters rejected those parties is probably the wrong way round. The truth is that those parties have rejected rural voters. In 2015 Labour’s policy offer to the countryside was little more than a series of threats about everything from gun ownership to badger culling and extraordinarily the Liberal Democrats, despite having many sensible MPs in rural areas, also managed to exude indifference towards the countryside at a national level.
As a Conservative MP I should probably stop now and leave both parties to stew in the mire they have created, but there is a bigger issue here about countryside ‘representation’. What these results tell us politicians (of all parties) is that the notion that we have to endorse the animal rights agenda to be successful has now been thoroughly tested, and completely failed. When I first stood against the sitting Labour MP in my constituency of Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire South in 2010 no less a figure than Brian May, guitar hero and animal rights champion, made the long trek here to campaign against me. The League Against Cruel Sports (in breach of Charity Commission guidance) spent the entire election campaign pursuing me around my patch trying to ‘expose’ my links to the Countryside Alliance, an organisation I had fairly publicly led for the preceding 7 years.
I won, as did all the other pro-hunting, pro-shooting, pro-farming, pro-common sense candidates animal rights groups campaigned against, and our results compared favourably with our colleagues in urban and rural constituencies. Brian May came again this time and yet my majority increased well in line with the national picture, as did all my other colleagues who were targeted by badger marchers, hunt sabs and assorted animal rights activists. None of this should come as a surprise.
The shining example of common sense in the Labour party Kate Hoey, who I was proud to serve as Chief Executive when she was Chairman of the Countryside Alliance, has been abused by animal rights extremists, stalked by eccentrics in fox outfits and even had animal rights candidates standing against her in her inner-London constituency. At this election she increased her majority, just as she did in 2010. Is there another Labour MP in the country who can say that?
The message is clear to all of us in politics. Pandering to a tiny minority of noisy extremists won’t get us elected, it will get us rejected. Part of the current malaise in politics is voter exasperation in the blandness of us all. MPs who stand proudly in defence of important principles are like fresh air to our cynical punters, and generate support and respect, even from those they may offend in the process.
Simon Hart is the MP for Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire South. When he won the seat from Labour in 2010 he became the first Conservative MP to represent any part of Carmarthenshire since 1851. In the 2015 election he increased his majority to over 6,000.