Rural affairs

In politics, you never quite know what's around the corner.  At 9.15 am on Monday I was Shadow Justice Secretary.  A few minutes later, after a meeting with David Cameron, I had changed jobs in the Shadow Cabinet to become Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

This is a great new brief for me.  I've spent a good part of my working life promoting rural issues, and I really care about them.

Many of the policies which I will be focusing on are of huge concern to local people: how to deal with waste while avoiding landfill, so that we don't have to dump rubbish at Rock Common or Laybrook, or keep extending the Horton tip; how best to protect priceless landscape like the South Downs and its wildlife; how to ensure a vibrant agriculture which matters so much to maintaining the countryside; how we can support local producers, promoting greater food security and self-sufficiency.

Too often the countryside is ignored.  Today I've published new figures showing that Rural England has lost a third of its entire post office network since 2000, with rural branches closing at a far greater rate than those in urban areas.  Within the last year we've lost two more branches locally, at Slindon and Washington.

Post offices often lie at the heart of rural communities and losses on this scale have been immensely damaging.  The story of the last decade has been of arrogant central government imposing its will on rural people without the slightest regard for their views.

Ministers have driven the downgrading of hospitals without listening to patients.  They've imposed unsustainable house building targets on local communities.  They've tried to merge rural police forces - fortunately unsuccessfully.

Turnout in rural areas at the last general election was significantly higher than in urban ones.  Rural communities are crying out for a say.  I hope that I can help give them a voice. 

Michelle Taylor