Countryside Alliance obscures core concepts

The Countryside Alliance had a budget of more than £1m for their march last weekend and it's safe to assume that a large part of that went on PR.

I was at the start of the march covering the event for BBC Radio 5 Live and press officers were on hand to supply us with any number of spokespeople.

The one I interviewed was trying to convince me that the march wasn't about hunting just as their big screen in the park was showing a propaganda film of hunters in action. This was their biggest problem. How to make people believe that they weren't just marching in favour of hunting when they really were. They realise that everyone hates hunting but loves the countryside so building the event around saving the countryside made sense.

Calling the demo a march for Liberty and Livelihood was a clever move too. Who in their right mind is against Liberty and Livelihood?

The Countryside Alliance PR team had an uphill struggle though. How do you control 400,000 people on the march and those groups of people who think they are helping the cause with silly stunts? They must have been cursing the headmaster of Eton who announced that he was letting the pupils join the march. Immediately they are easily dismissed as 'Tory Toffs' which is actually what a lot of them are. Three posh girls even posed topless for The Sun in their hunting gear and one placard saying 'We're only here for the totty' hardly gave the impression that they were serious.

The organisers may have pleaded with people not to bring hunting horns which they rightly thought would alienate the majority but there were plenty in evidence and given full prominence on TV and radio.

If I were organising the march the last people I would want any where near it were leading Tories but they couldn't be kept away. IDS joined in with his wife and both Norman Tebbit and Michael Heseltine appeared on the media supporting the marchers.

Neil Kinnock once spoke to 500,000 people at a CND rally in London but his support for a cause that was not widely popular only helped to shore up his core vote. That's all IDS will get out of it. The Tories would no doubt have loved all the placards expressing not so flattering views of the Prime Minister but that just served to politicise the march and make it easier for the opponents to attack.

Having so called 'celebs' joining in may have seemed a good idea, but when they include Clarissa Dickson Wright, Jim Davidson and John McCririck - all known to have slightly right wing views - then it may have been better if they stayed away.

The right wing press lapped it up anyway and the Daily Mail relished reporting the event and producing a 'souvenir' edition the next day.

The Daily Telegraph no doubt enjoyed filling the role of Socialist Worker on a demo by having its own paper sellers.

But at the end of the day will Tony Blair listen? The answer has to be no. Apart form Kate Hoey there probably wasn't one Labour voter on the march. The carefully planned PR never really had a chance of succeeding in convincing the rest of us that farmers who get £3bn a year subsidies are poor or that the countryside needs more help than urban areas. Once the Countryside Alliance decided not to concentrate on fox hunting there was no clear focus for the march, just a general whinge against the Government.

My impression was that the march was organised by those sections of society who once relied on the Tory Party to deliver the goods for them. They are probably more frustrated with the failure of the Tories to dent Labour than anything else. These are people who still own much of the country but no longer run it.

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