The Royal County of Berkshire Show never fails to entertain. My highlights this year were the return of the Army motorcycle display team, The White Helmets, and a brilliant New Zealander and his “sheep show”. I could explain the last one but you really have to see it. It’s laugh-out-loud stuff.
I also had some work to do at the show. I met with the Institute of Advanced Motoring to talk about the campaign to improve safety on the A34. I met with our local broadband provider, Gigaclear, to see how their roll-out of superfast broadband is working. I am starting to hear satisfied voices from some areas where many who missed out on the BT contract are now being connected. For a local MP the show is a great opportunity to meet, listen and learn from interests across the constituency. But most of all, it was a chance to catch up on the hopes and fears of rural business as we enter the uncertainties of Brexit and a time of volatile commodity prices.
I spoke to farmers and others at the Country Land and Business Association stand. I started by saying that there was more chance of an accurate forecast of what would happen to agriculture by consulting the clairvoyant who was to be found a few stands up on the same avenue. What I could offer was my belief that this was the time for bold ambition by the Government. There is much that is wrong with the Common Agricultural Policy and grim though I believe the referendum result to be, it does offer us the chance to create a new rural policy that combines support for farmers with an improved environment and, at its heart, a social policy. This means integrating housing, broadband, schools and business opportunities in rural areas. I believe we have to get away from the concept of farming subsidies. Good farmers manage the raw material (the land) from which many others benefit. The billions earned by tourism, retailers and other businesses, off the back of what farmers do, allow for some measure of support. In addition, farmers can be compensated for reduced income if, say, they ensure cleaner water comes off their land or if their management of the land can protect towns and villages from flooding. Despite the many current difficulties, I met many farmers optimistic for the future.