A long march away from liberty and livelihood

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Tomorrow's march for Bloodsports and Subsidies is easy to mock. The incoherence of its demands, the hunting horns, the fancy dress, the block bookings of some of London's finest hotels and the balls (not parties) to round off a day of waving placards against rural poverty.

Tomorrow's march for Bloodsports and Subsidies is easy to mock. The incoherence of its demands, the hunting horns, the fancy dress, the block bookings of some of London's finest hotels and the balls (not parties) to round off a day of waving placards against rural poverty.

Yet the strength of feeling cannot be dismissed so easily. It is a test of the tolerance essential to democracy that any society should respect the views of minorities, however unlikeable, privileged or apparently misguided they seem to the majority. Most people in this country both live in cities and disapprove of fox-hunting, but that does not give them the automatic right to dictate to those who do not.

Hunting is a curious activity, but no more cruel than any other way of controlling fox numbers and much less cruel than the intensive farming of animals to provide food for urban supermarkets. On this issue, genuinely one of liberty, The Independent is four square behind the marchers.

For the rest, we recognise that the Labour government has a metropolitan sheen, and sometimes seems unsympathetic to rural people. That is a sign of the durability of the class divide in British politics, despite Tony Blair's attempt to transcend it. Long-established rural families, rich or poor, have tended to be more comfortable with the Conservatives. Now they know what it was like to live in the inner cities under a party that seemed not to understand the problems of council estates.

Many of the causes of poverty – poor education, family breakdown – are the same in town and country. Of course, the countryside has its special problems. Farmers suffered from foot-and-mouth. So, too, with far less generous state support, did the tourist industry. But rural people find it hard to afford houses because they are sold at a fat profit to townies who like the countryside so much they want to live in it.

The only way to preserve the countryside's "way of life" would be to restrict the sale of property, and to ask urban taxpayers to subsidise uneconomic rural activities even more. That would be a negation of liberty and, in the long run, of livelihood as well.

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