J.R.R Tolkein once commented of hobbits that ‘’a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt’’. Well in this sense I must say I have an affinity with the hobbits of Middle Earth. As I drive around Oxfordshire playing the works of Pachelbel, Dvorak and Vivaldi a tear comes to my eye. Not because of the stunning beauty of the countryside, nor because I have accidentally checked my bank balance, but because this serenity is under grave peril.
The very notion that my grandchildren may never be able to place the words of Jerusalem to the North Oxfordshire patch which I meander round on crisp country nights, never to sip a Thatchers Gold whilst overlooking the quilted patchwork of flora and fauna arranged all round. This is a tragedy to me. In a country moving well away from any form of social conservatism, this is the solace we have left. That during a life of constant frustration arguing causes long since decided we may retire up to our own green pastures and bemoan the way of the world. The fact that Kidlington will be forced to take 4,400 new homes in the next few years is a sign of how much the authorities want to crush the Oxfordshire countryside. This is one of the flaws of pure capitalism. It is so much more affordable to build on greenfield sites than brownfield sites. Is this really what we shall tell our children? That we let a few massive building conglomerates destroy their countryside heritage over our own regulatory laziness. The fact all of these plans emanate from a Conservative government is the most sickening betrayal of all.
The whole purpose of a conservative is to preserve for future generations and in my view there is no greater thing to preserve. The MPs voting through HS2 and other such flawed, countryside destroying infrastructure projects should emerge timidly from London (like man from Plato’s Cave) and see the beauty of the country they represent. We must find a balance between people being able to live where they want and preserving our most precious heritage. As Cicero himself said ‘’magna est vis constituendis’’ (great is the power of habit). Once one greenbelt starts to be infringed then the status quo will vanish and a land grab will seize the countryside.
Now is the time to stand up for our countryside, we must tread a via media between housing needs and preserving our greenbelt. We must remember it is not just the countryside at risk, but the identity of every rural community as expansion takes villages closer and closer together. We, as conservatives, cannot afford for our rural areas to become urban, as we tend not to win in the larger settlements. We must focus on preserving the countryside as a core issue, otherwise we may not even have a hill to die on.
As E.M. Forster said in the mid 20th century, ‘’The English countryside, its growth and its destruction, is a genuinely tragic theme’’ - and so it continues to be today.
Alex Honey (non-university member) is an undergraduate in his first year at Exeter University, and Chairman of the Exeter University Conservative Association.