Tories are waging a bitter war against anything they see as damaging the countryside. Wind farms, high speed rail, and new housing developments are all encountering their organised resistance. This is because they have, dangerously and inaccurately, come to regard the countryside as a garden for their own enjoyment.
Prince Charles described wind farms as “a monstrous carbuncle”; his father just called them “a disgrace” (Wind farms are defended in the Mail article by fellow Lib Dem blogger Adam Bell!) The Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework is condemned on the basis that it might allow buildings to go up on green fields. The HS2 high speed rail link to the North is excoriated just for having the temerity to pass through the countryside. Forget the energy crisis, the housing crisis, the decades of underinvestment in the country’s infrastructure, these people say – what about our views of grass?
The countryside is not, and has never been, some kind of vast pleasure-garden. The countryside is about grinding a hard living from the soil, corralling and slaughtering beasts by their millions, blasting rock apart for its mineral wealth, gouging out solid energy from the earth’s crust. It is a landscape wholly created by industry and toil, girded all about by steel rails.
There is wild land that is wholly worth preserving as national park. But a national park has the same relation to the countryside as a city park has to its urban context: a necessary complement, but something fundamentally unlike its surroundings.
One of my favourite spots in the country, perhaps the world, is Stanton Moor in the Peak District, for its megaliths, its ecology, a curious folly commemorating the Reform Act of 1832, and because its height affords a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. That view is of working farms and working quarries – of toil. That doesn’t detract from the view any more than all those damn buildings detract from the view at the top of the London Eye. It is the view; it is the essence of it. The moor itself was shaped by its industrial history. You can’t walk anywhere in the Derbyshire countryside without seeing where our Bronze Age ancestors carved rocks from the earth, or the Romans dug for lead, or where Victorian Englishmen started a little thing called the industrial revolution.
These commuter Tories who escape to the country and buy up farmhouses to create a fundamentally suburban simulacrum of rural life misunderstand the element they are entering. They don the Barbour and attend the village fete and enjoy the view from their rustic-style barnconversion kitchen windows, but they misunderstand.
There is another moor that I love, just to the North of Stanton-in-the-Peak: Beeley Moor. From here you look down across an artificial rustic landscape – the Chatsworth House estate, with its Capability Brown gardens, neat turf and precisely-picturesque number of lambs. The fourth Duke of Devonshire went as far as to demolish the local village, Edensor, and have it rebuilt behind a convenient hill so that it would cease spoiling his view across the Derwent.
Now every two-bit Tory in the land thinks that they can act like this Duke and look out across a panorama of bucolic fakery. Never mind that this stops affordable housing development and drives up housing prices beyond the reach of real low-paid rural workers. Never mind that we’re dependent on Arab sheikhs for our energy security.
Tories of the shires: our countryside is not your frivolous playground. It is a serious place for serious work.