Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Farmers and landowners fighting a ban on foxhunting are planning a war on electricity installations. Power companies are to be besieged with requests to remove or relocate installations as part of a new campaign of non-cooperation with the Government, its agents and utility companies. The aim is to minimise disruption to the public but to wreak havoc for the authorities, to clog government machinery and impose extra bureaucracy on officials. The Countryside Alliance has sanctioned the plan in an attempt to head off an illicit campaign of civil disobedience by hunt extremists that could bring chaos to town and city centres and motorways, and alienate public opinion.

The non-cooperation could start before the end of the week, when the future of hunting will be decided by Parliament.

The decision to target power installations follows a revolt by many farmers, on Salisbury Plain and in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Wales, who have already banned military training. More farmers have threatened similar bans. Withdrawal of access will also affect exercises for the RAF mountain rescue team, courses for the Royal Navy outdoor leadership training and SAS escape and evasion. This latest ploy will deeply irritate power companies and the Department of Trade and Industry. Applications to remove or resite pylons and posts are subject to an automatic legal process under the Electricity Act 1989. Power companies would be hit by an avalanche of paperwork and the DTI might have to appoint more engineering inspectors to preside over hearings. At present, only about six take place each year. In many cases, the power companies might win the right to keep the pylons in place but may be forced to pay out substantial compensation to landowners under the Land Compensation Act 1961. In some cases, disputes would have to be settled by a land tribunal.

About 19,000 landowners in England and Wales receive annual rental payments from power companies - known as a wayleave - on about 65,000 pylons and a further five million poles. Cash payments vary from 8 pounds for a pole to 50 for a pylon, though as much as 500 pounds a year can be paid for a pylon in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has been known for power companies to pay six-figure sums for a pylon within 150 yards of a farmhouse or converted barn.

Derek George, 67, a retired farmer from Llangewydd, near Laleston, Bridgend, in South Wales, has two large pylons and one post on his 75-acre holding. He receives about 40 pounds a year for each pylon and 8 pounds a year for the pole. He said: "I am now prepared to tell National Grid Transco and South Wales Electricity that I no longer want these on my land. Instead I'm going to propose that they should install an underground cable." Mr George has hunted for 45 years with the Llangeinor hunt and has decided that if a hunting ban were introduced, his only retaliation would be to withdraw goodwill from the authorities....

Richard May, 60, who runs his own Forest and District beagle pack on his 160-acre farm south of Macclesfield, Cheshire, is also ready to ask for the removal of six posts and a pylon. He also thinks landowners can create further impact by refusing access by the authorities to monitor rivers and weirs. "I am not going to put those dogs down. People in the countryside are law abiding and we hope that reason will prevail in Parliament. But if it doesn't, I'll use every trick in the book to bugger up the authorities."...

English Nature could be hampered if officials had no access to count various bird and wildlife species in various parts of the country as part of the Government's international biodiversity agreement. Its research programmes could also be affected. Railway companies may be prevented from access to maintain sections of the railway bank and the Met Office could be denied access to recording stations.

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An e-mail from an old friend arrived Wednesday evening, on news of changes at the Justice Department. "God be praised," he wrote. "At least, I hope, we can all agree that it's good that Ashcroft is out." .... What is the liberal assumption? It is the self-declared right to set the moral parameters of political debate. Hence my friend's words, "at least" and "we." Who are the "we"? Apparently it is the community of sensible people. What is the "at least"? The lowest common denominator that unites me to my friend as persons of sense. Question: What happens if I don't subscribe to the "at least"? Answer: I cease to belong to the "we."

Of course, liberals are not the only ones who make these kinds of assumptions. In Israel, for example, the Orthodox rabbinate has the statutory right to decide who is, and who is not, a Jew. So if you are a convert to Judaism but your conversion was overseen by a Reform or Conservative rabbi, then by Orthodox lights you are not a Jew, and you are not entitled to the things that in Israel Orthodox rabbis alone can provide, like a Jewish wedding. As a result, thousands of Israeli couples must go abroad to marry. No doubt other religions enforce similar rules for in-group/out-group behavior, just as countries have rules to determine who qualifies for citizenship.

But with liberals, there is a difference. For starters, they are liberal: that is, "tolerant," "open-minded," "not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values," "having views or policies advocating individual freedom of action and expression," to mention some of the dictionary definitions. Sure, rabbis, priests and politicians earn their living by making distinctions between Us and Them. But liberals speak for all mankind: Their decencies are human decencies, not group ones, supposedly. And while human decency shouldn't connote limitless toleration for aberrant behavior, surely the liberal "at least" would be notched a couple inches below whatever level of human debasement John Ashcroft is supposed to have reached.

Yet, to paraphrase Bruce Hornsby, that's not the way it is. Not long ago, the New York Sun, a conservative broadsheet, dispatched six brave souls to traipse around Manhattan donning conspicuous Bush-Cheney campaign paraphernalia. One reporter, Roderick Boyd, encountered a woman in Union Square who "spat on the ground at his feet and proceeded to deliver a lecture on alleged Republican fascism and 'blood for oil.' " Another reporter, Maura Yates, "received a more personal greeting from a fellow pedestrian: He walked up and stuck his middle finger in her face."

What gave this story particular interest was that it was inspired by a similar stunt by Slate reporter Richard Rushfield, who spent some time in Republican and Democratic districts wearing paraphernalia of the opposing candidate. "In my Kerry-Edwards shirt," he writes, "I enter Red America certain that I am on the verge of inciting to rage a gang of angry yachtsmen. . . . Instead I encounter only shades of indifference."

That's not the way it is in Kerry Country, however, where Mr. Rushfield's experiences tend to be a bit more vivid. "Reflecting on the sting of being called 'a--------' during my trips through Blue America, I wonder: If I were truly a Bush supporter, how long would I be able to endure a life filled with epithets before I gave up on the shirt?"

Good question, Richard, and one I often ask myself. For here's something most thoughtful conservatives learn at some point in their political education: However "Red" this country may be at the ballot box, it remains for us the land of the liberal assumption, in which merely to express our opinion is to risk seeming rude. And being the conservatives we are, most of us are way too polite for that.

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