'We are listening,' Tory MP tells disillusioned rural folk
A Westcountry Tory MP has urged voters in rural areas to "stick with it" after it emerged that support for his party from people living in the country-side has fallen by more than a fifth under the coalition Government.
The Countryside Alliance said that just 66% of its members are planning to vote Conservative at the next election, down from almost nine in ten when the Tories were in opposition.
Amid concerns that rural views on issues like hunting, planning and the high-speed rail line to the north of England are "not being listened to".
The poll, which was presented to ministers earlier this month, found that one in ten Countryside Alliance members are now planning to vote UKIP at the next election because they feel their votes are being "taken for granted".
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But Neil Parish, Conservative MP for rural Tiverton and Honiton in Devon, and a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, said: "I have spent all my political life supporting the countryside and I'm not going to stop now. Stick with it. We are listening.
"One of the problems we have is being in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. So people on the right-wing of the political spectrum have been disillusioned. We have to listen to them.
"The referendum on Europe we have promised and amendments to the Hunting Act we are looking at should reassure people."
The Coalition Agreement includes a pledge to give MPs a free vote on a full repeal of the fox hunting as soon as parliamentary time is available – but there has been little indication this will happen any time soon.
Many are also concerned by the Government's plans to build hundreds of thousands of new homes, many of which will be in rural areas.
Tory planning minister Nick Boles attracted controversy earlier this year when he said that "houses are better than green fields".
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "They feel frustrated and angry with the Coalition, and are concerned that the Tory Party is focusing on urban issues.
"These are people who have spent a lot of time campaigning on issues such as hunting and HS2 and feel they are not being listened to, that they are being taken for granted.
"They don't understand why so much is being spent on High Speed 2, they are very concerned by the Government's tone on house building and they want the hunting ban repealed."
The Countryside Alliance, which has 100,000 members, surveyed 1,000 of them about their voting intentions at the next election. It found that 66% are planning to vote Conservative, 13% UKIP, 4% Liberal Democrat and 2% Labour.
A previous Comres study for the Countryside Alliance found that only 16% of those living in rural areas thought the Coalition had helped them. Of the remainder, 60% thought the Government was ignoring those in rural areas through its policies, and 20 per cent said they did not know. Two-thirds thought elected politicians were more interested in the views and values of people living in big towns and cities, such as London, than those of people living in small towns, villages, hamlets and remote country areas.