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New Labour's countryside

New Labour's countryside: Rural policy in Britain since 1997

Edited by Michael Woods
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    New Labour's countryside
    Book Description:

    Rural policy has presented some of the most difficult and unexpected challenges to the New Labour government. From the Foot and Mouth crisis to the rise of the Countryside Alliance, from farm protests to concerns about rural crime, rural issues have frequently seized headlines and formed the basis of organized opposition to the government. Yet, the same government, elected with a record number of rural MPs, has also proactively sought to reform rural policy. This book critically reviews and analyses the development and implementation of New Labour's rural policies since 1997. It explores the factors shaping the evolution and form of New Labour's rural agenda, and assesses the impact of specific policies. Contributions examine discursive restructuring of the rural policy agenda, the institutional reforms and effects of devolution, the key political debates and challenges around hunting, agricultural reform, Foot and Mouth, housing development and the 'right to roam', and review policy developments with respect to crime, social exclusion and employment in the countryside, rural community governance and national parks. New Labour's Countryside will be of interest to students of contemporary British politics and of rural studies, and to anyone involved in the government and politics of the countryside.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-361-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iii)
  3. List of tables and boxes
    (pp. iv-iv)
  4. Notes on contributors
    (pp. v-viii)
  5. Part One: Contexts and political strategies

    • ONE New Labour’s countryside
      (pp. 3-28)
      Michael Woods

      Shortly before the 1997 general election, Tony Blair and New Labour embarked on a conspicuous effort to woo wavering rural voters. As Blair’s biographer, John Rentoul, observed, he “tried to pitch his tent wide enough to take in most of the countryside, being filmed before the election in green wellingtons, not knowing whether to pat a calf, and giving a transparent interview toCountry Life. ‘I wouldn’t live in a big city if I could help it [Blair told the magazine]. I would live in the country. I was brought up there, really’” (Rentoul, 2001, p 422). Whatever the veracity...

    • TWO Rethinking rural policy under New Labour
      (pp. 29-44)
      Neil Ward

      When New Labour swept to power in May 1997 it was on a manifesto that had little to say about rural areas or rural policy. The countryside was acknowledged as “a great natural asset, a part of our heritage which calls for special stewardship”, but balanced with the “needs of people who live and work in rural areas” (Labour Party, 1997, pp 4 and 30). In contrast to Labour manifestos of old, there were no grand plans for land nationalisation, agricultural tenancy reform or investment in public services infrastructure. The proposals to establish a ‘right to roam’ across open country...

    • THREE Rural governance, devolution and policy delivery
      (pp. 45-58)
      Mark Goodwin

      This chapter examines the institutions and structures through which rural policy is devised and delivered at national, regional and local scales. The institutional map of rural policy forged through three successive New Labour governments is markedly different from that which they inherited from the Conservatives in 1997. Perhaps this is not surprising, for as Jamie Peck (2001, p 449) has reminded us the state is, after all, a “political process in motion”. As new governments come into office, consolidate their power and attempt to deliver their own political strategies they can be expected to alter the institutions through which they...

    • FOUR New Labour’s countryside in international perspective
      (pp. 59-78)
      Mark Shucksmith

      In international perspective, rural Britain appears something of a paradox: Britain’s rural areas differ in many respects from those of other countries, and yet they are strongly subject to similar international forces and influences, notably from the EU. The New Labour project itself was born partly out of an international perspective. Giddens (2002) sees its origins in Labour’s recognition of the need to rethink leftist doctrines in the light of the big changes happening in the world–globalisation, the emergence of the knowledge economy, the rise of individualism and ‘postmaterialist’ concerns, the ‘dysfunctions’ of the welfare state, and the emergence...

  6. Part Two: The key debates

    • FIVE The foot and mouth crisis
      (pp. 81-94)
      Michael Winter

      Whilst New Labour might have anticipated one particular difficult rural issue as providing a challenge in their first administration, namely hunting, they can hardly have anticipated a second. Yet in February 2001, the government was confronted with one of its most serious domestic crises so far. The epidemic of foot and mouth disease (FMD) was the first in Britain since 1968, apart from an isolated outbreak, affecting just one farm, on the Isle of Wight in 1981. It brought farreaching consequences not only for biosecurity practices and policies, but also for our understanding of agri-food sustainability and of the changing...

    • SIX Hunting: New Labour success or New Labour failure?
      (pp. 95-114)
      Michael Woods

      In a special supplement marking ten years of Tony Blair’s premiership,The Observernewspaper heralded the ban of fox-hunting as the second most significant ‘defining Blair moment’, behind only the war with Iraq (The Observer, 2007). The hunting ban arguably qualifies for this elevated status on a number of grounds. It is one of the truly historic achievements of the New Labour government, criminalising an activity that had been part of rural tradition for several centuries and which was regarded by many as an icon of Englishness, as well as concluding a century-old campaign for its prohibition. The hunting ban...

    • SEVEN Planning and development in the countryside
      (pp. 115-134)
      Nick Gallent

      Development in the countryside, and the way the planning system regulates that development, is a hugely contentious issue. This chapter focuses on housing – and related infrastructure – on ‘green fields’, both at the rural – urban fringe and beyond. It begins by setting out the narrative of planning’s ‘big debate’ regarding housing development, tracing its evolution in the UK through New Labour’s time in power since their first general election victory in 1997. But it is impossible to focus on housingin the countrysidewithout positioning this issue within a broader examination of house-building, the government’s call for ‘sustainable communities’, the reform...

    • EIGHT Countryside access and the ‘right to roam’ under New Labour: nothing to CRoW about?
      (pp. 135-148)
      Gavin Parker

      Over the past ten years or so, since the May 1997 general election, the Labour Party in government under Tony Blair has taken a number of controversial decisions and implemented, or otherwise avoided, measures that impact on the countryside directly and indirectly. The Blair administrations had styled themselves as a great reforming government with change, review, iteration and reorientation unfolding on many policy fronts. However, it appears that the New Labour project was as much an opportunist and pragmatic politics (Powell, 2000) as a coherent ‘third way’, as some might argue (see, for example, Giddens, 1998, 2001). If anything the...

    • NINE Agricultural policy
      (pp. 149-166)
      Alan Greer

      The agricultural policy of the New Labour governments has been central in their approach to governing the countryside. This is highlighted in the rhetoric of multifunctional agriculture, which stresses the contribution that farmers make to the delivery of a wide range of policy objectives – not only in food production but also in rural development, environmental sustainability, animal welfare and food quality. Thus in a speech to the Royal Agricultural Society in July 2006, David Miliband, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, commented that “farming is at the heart of our society, our economy and...

  7. Part Three: Policies for the rural economy, society and environment

    • TEN Rural community development and governance
      (pp. 169-188)
      Graham Gardner

      New Labour has made the development and governance of local communities a key focus of rural policy. This chapter sets that focus in the context of wider strategies of government and considers its implications for rural society in Britain. The first part argues that New Labour’s concern with making rural communities more active in their own governance and development reflects an ongoing transition in the ‘governmentality’ of Western liberal democracies. In the course of this shift, communities are becoming key instruments of government. The second part discusses the mechanisms through which New Labour has sought to make rural communities more...

    • ELEVEN New Labour, poverty and welfare in rural England
      (pp. 189-204)
      Paul Milbourne

      In the first extract, taken from the Foreword to the 2006 Green Paper on welfare reform in the UK, John Hutton, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, sets out the government’s general approach to welfare provision. On the one hand, he suggests that the welfare state should continue to provide support for vulnerable and needy groups within society. On the other, Hutton argues that the welfare system should play a role in bringing excluded groups into the labour market, strengthening Britain’s position within the increasingly competitive global economy. In the first part of this chapter I want to discuss...

    • TWELVE Policing policy and policy policing: directions in rural policing under New Labour
      (pp. 205-220)
      Richard Yarwood

      In 2002 the annual ‘State of the Countryside’ report (Countryside Agency, 2002) contained, for the first time, a chapter dedicated to rural crime. Its inclusion suggested that policy makers and practitioners were taking greater interest in crime and policing in the countryside than had hitherto been the case in the 1990s (Yarwood and Edwards, 1995; Dingwall and Moody, 1999; Yarwood and Gardener, 2000). Certainly, the introduction of a number of initiatives between 2000 and 2006 implied that Labour gave greater priority to rural policing than the previous Conservative administration. However, while rural policing was made more visible in the policy...

    • THIRTEEN Twenty-first century employment and training in the countryside? The rural ‘New Deal’ experience
      (pp. 221-240)
      Suzie Watkin and Martin Jones

      Since 1997 the New Labour government has incrementally introduced a raft of institutional and policy changes in relation to employment, training and skills in order to seek to boost productivity and economic growth. Cast from a mould of neoliberal political objectives, this is in part connected to constructing a knowledge-based economy (KBE) based on rising employment in financial services, high-technology and the ICT sector, media and the broader cultural economy, and the continued rise in self-employment. On another level, however, the KBE is about a new kind of labour market where deeply entrenched unemployment becomes a policy problem of the...

    • FOURTEEN National Parks and the governance of the rural environment
      (pp. 241-254)
      Nicola Thompson

      At the Labour Party conference in September 1999 the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, announced the creation of two new National Parks for England: the New Forest and the South Downs.¹ Hailing the creation of National Parks as a historic Labour achievement Prescott described his pledge as “a birthday present from Labour to the youth of this country” (BBC, 1999). A year later the newly formed Scottish Parliament passed legislation for the creation of National Parks in Scotland, paving the way for the designation of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in 2002 and the Cairngorms in 2003. This designation programme...

  8. Part Four: Conclusion

    • FIFTEEN Beyond New Labour’s countryside
      (pp. 257-276)
      Michael Woods

      In a review of the impact on the British countryside of the policies of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, Cloke (1992) observed that “the Thatcher era has ushered in new ‘structured coherences’ in some rural localities” (p 292). The restructuring of state relations, Cloke noted, had limited the ability of government agencies to intervene in rural planning and development; the deregulation of planning and the privatisation of utility companies had created new opportunities for investment and the exploitation of rural resources; and the privileging of middle-class interests had helped to generate new markets for countryside commodities. Collectively, these processes had produced...

  9. Index
    (pp. 277-285)