The fight for the rural wall

Mark Riches, Acting Regional Director, Country Land & Business Association
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While the date of the general election is still unknown many are wondering how they will vote when polling stations open. The CLA, which represents the interests of farmers, landowners and rural businesses, recently surveyed rural voters, and the results show distinct shifts in political attitude, with more people believing Labour understands and respects rural communities and the rural way of life than the Conservatives (28% versus 25%).

The Survation poll canvassed more than 1,000 rural people in England for their views on the political parties and the most important issues to them when it comes to the upcoming election. This is the second time we have conducted polling to better understand the rural perspective, and the results largely conform to national polling - that Labour is on course to victory if the numbers hold. Labour’s rural support has risen, with 37% saying they would vote for the party, compared to 20% at the 2019 election, and up slightly from our last poll.

This means that, for the first time, Labour is taking the lead from the Conservatives, who are on 34% – down 25% on their 2019 vote share, and down 7% from the polling last year. It is important to bear in mind that this polling is largely intention based; people may tell a pollster they will vote a certain way but place their vote elsewhere when holding the pencil. The trend, however, is not good for the Conservatives.

It appears that the party has lost the trust of rural voters, suffering a 22% drop in those who say that the Conservatives understand and respect rural communities compared to our 2022 survey. Some of this can be explained by voter fatigue with the current government and the fact that no party can continue to be popular with the public. There is, however, a sense that rural businesses and communities feel their support has been taken for granted and are willing to take a chance on change.

Before the Labour Party starts celebrating, they should be under no illusion: they have done little to earn these votes. Traditionally, they have shown little to no understanding of our rural communities, and even in recent years, not much has changed.

Rural communities care little for finger pointing party politics. And politicians need to know that our votes are loans, not lifetime gifts. Above all else, we are practical people, and we want practical solutions not empty promises.

If the political parties are looking for ideas, may I recommend the CLA’s six missions? These missions, which you can find on our website, are designed to help all the political parties understand what policies will be necessary for the rural economy to achieve its potential.

With the right support, rural businesses can generate growth, creating good jobs and prosperity for every community.