Countryside 'hit by wine bar culture'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair was accused of trying to impose "the values of Islington wine bars" on rural Britain yesterday by the Tory leader, William Hague.

Speaking in his Richmond constituency, Mr Hague accused the Government of viewing the countryside from an urban perspective, which was leaving farming in danger of "bleeding to death".

He said: "It is an urban culture that arrogantly dismisses and discounts the views of those who live in rural Britain, those who know the countryside best, while at the same time trying to impose the values of Islington wine bars on them. All too often the impression is given that this urban élite sees the countryside as a kind of theme park - a kind of rural version of the Dome - rather than a place in which real people work and live."

Increases in petrol duties, cuts in police numbers and "arbitrary" housing targets had left rural communities feeling isolated, Mr Hague said. In addition, the right to roam and "vindictive, ignorant and opportunistic attempts to ban country sports" had endangered conservation, jobs and centuries of tradition.

A Tory government would introduce measures to help, including banning food imports which did not meet British hygiene and animal welfare standards, introducing "honesty" in food labelling and cutting the burden of red tape, he said.

Meanwhile in a separate speech, the shadow Chancellor, Michael Portillo, warned that Britain was losing some of its brightest brains and most profitable companies because of taxes and red tape. He said that as e-commerce dissolved trade barriers around the world, companies would increasingly shun Britain as a base unless it offered a more business-friendly environment.

In a speech to the National Association of Pension Funds, the first in a series in which he will set out what the Conservatives would do to enhance the economy, Mr Portillo said business could "flow overseas at the click of a mouse" if the tax environment became uncompetitive. "Masked by today's continuing economic growth, great economic damage is being done. Britain's competitive edge is being blunted," he said.