Terence Blacker: Enough of this townie sneering

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The Independent Online

Most of the time, those of us who happen to live in the country are happy to ignore the casual urban prejudice which characterises British politics and the media. Now and then, though, the level of metropolitan silliness reaches a level which is impossible to ignore.

Those occasions tend to occur when big decisions affecting almost exclusively those living outside cities are being made, just as exclusively, by those living in them: housing plans, wind turbine developments, power stations, changes to the transport infrastructure.

The debates may vary but what they all have in common is a high degree of urban ignorance, often revealing an inexplicable hostility to the mysterious world of the countryside.

Society has, on the whole, learned not to judge people on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation, but rural stereotyping is more prevalent than ever. Sooner or later in these discussions, a succession of tired old clichés will tumble out.

The countryside is an essentially middle-class place of affluence and privilege, it is said. Those who live there are conservative, backward-looking and wedded to tradition. They are also innately selfish: that useful catch-all term of abuse "nimby" is rarely applied to those living in cities. They are more money-minded than urban people, forever obsessing (although they deny it) about the value of their house. For them, no progress should be allowed to spoil the precious view they have from their windows. These casual, blinkered assumptions transcend political boundaries.

Those who live in the country are by no means better off than their urban counterparts. In the last report by the Commission for Rural Communities (subsequently abolished by the government, it almost goes without saying), 19 per cent of those in rural districts were living below the poverty threshold.

Selfishness and greed are urban not rural characteristics. If people argue for the landscape, the local environment and community, it is not out of self-interest, but because they believe the qualities of the country are important. It is often why they live there.

The shortest stay in the country will reveal that more people are involved in local activities, have a sense of involvement with the community, than will be found in any city. In an age when computers are changing the way we live and work, it could be argued that it is those who champion an ever-larger, ever-faster and more intrusive transport network to hurtle business people around the country who are old-fashioned.

There is in fact more curiosity and knowledge about these big decisions and what they involve among those who live in the country than one will normally find in towns.

Those who live in the rural landscape care about the detailed effect rather than the grand political gesture. They look beyond the well-worn clichés of the debate, and ask the awkward, interesting questions.

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