The Conservatives are struggling to keep hold of their rural heartlands, suffering a 25-point collapse in support according to a stark new poll that shows Labour pulling ahead in the crucial battle for the countryside vote.
With a general election on the horizon, a new Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and Survation poll of more than 1,000 people in England’s 100 most rural constituencies reveals that:
- The share of the Labour vote has climbed to 37% (up 17 points on the 2019 general election result), with the Conservatives falling to 34% (down 25 points).
- More respondents believe Labour understands and respects rural communities and the rural way of life than the Conservatives (28% versus 25%).
- The Conservatives currently hold 96 of the 100 most rural seats, but face losing more than half to Labour and the Lib Dems, including those of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Jeremy Hunt and Thérèse Coffey.
- But with England’s rural population standing at 10 million, the poll also revealed a large chunk of the electorate is still up for grabs – when asked which of the political parties is most trusted to stimulate economic growth, the largest group of respondents said “don’t know” (35%).
The last time the CLA and Survation polled rural England, in April 2023, Labour were making gains but fell short of overtaking the Conservatives. Today’s poll shows the Tories’ vote has plummeted by a further 7%, with most of this vote going to the Reform party.
Country Land and Business Association President Victoria Vyvyan said: “People living in the countryside are ambitious – they want to start businesses, create jobs and grow the economy but for decades, governments of all colours have treated the countryside as a museum, failing to generate the conditions necessary for growth.
“This poll makes it clear that rural voters up and down the country feel politically homeless and disconnected from central government – but their votes are still up for grabs. Whichever party produces a robust and ambitious plan for growth in the rural economy will undoubtedly secure support.
For the good of our rural communities and the nation as a whole, now is the time for the main parties to make it clear that they will back the countryside
The findings reveal that the Conservatives may win just 43 of the 100 most rural seats, with Labour taking 51. High profile casualties are projected to include Jeremy Hunt, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Thérèse Coffey, Andrea Leadsom, Mel Stride, Mark Harper and Liam Fox.
The poll comes as the CLA, which represents nearly 27,000 farmers, landowners and rural businesses across England and Wales, publishes a blueprint setting out how parties can help unlock the full potential of the rural economy.
The six documents, or missions, cover topics such as profitable and sustainable farming, affordable housing, rural crime and delivering economic growth in rural areas.
Among these ‘missions’ is a call from the CLA for an increased agricultural budget of at least £4 billion a year to invest in a world-class agriculture policy and help farmers deliver meaningful improvements to the environment.
Farmers, including the next generation, need to have confidence that the Government will back their ambitions for food production and nature for the long-term, in the face of rising costs and inflationary pressures. Yet the poll found only 28% of respondents believe it is very or somewhat likely that the next generation of those living in the countryside will have a better life than their parents.
Victoria added: “The move towards delivering public good through agricultural policy is welcome. However, farmers can't fight climate change or biodiversity decline on a shoestring budget decimated by inflation.”
The current government is committed to spending an average of £2.4 billion a year on the farming budget in England across this Parliament, and has spent less than that in each of the last two years. It needs to spend at least £2.7 billion this year to hit its own target. The CLA is also calling for the Welsh Government to increase its budget to £1 billion a year for the Sustainable Farming Scheme and rural investment.