- New CLA and Survation report reveals a shift in the political landscape, with Conservatives losing the loyalty of the ‘Rural Wall’ after years of economic neglect
- Conservative voting intention plummets by -18% in the 100 most rural constituencies in England, with a +16% surge for Labour
- Tories currently hold 96 of these 100 seats, but face losing 20 to Labour and the Lib Dems, including Southwest Surrey, Conservative since 1983
Swathes of the Conservative’s ‘Rural Wall’ are defecting to Labour after years of economic neglect, according to a new report by the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) and Survation.
Polling of more than 1,000 people in England’s 100 most rural constituencies reveals a -18% fall in Tory support and a Labour surge of +16%, putting the Conservatives (41%) and Labour (36%) almost neck-and-neck for the next General Election.
The Conservatives currently hold 96 of the 100 most rural seats in England, but applying this trend to the 2019 results would see them lose 20 seats in 2024. This includes the likes of Northeast Somerset and Sherwood, which would fall to Labour. And areas like South-West Surrey, which has been Conservative since 1983, would fall to the Liberal Democrats.
Despite the historic bond between the Conservatives and rural England, only 36% of those polled agreed the Conservatives ‘understand and respect rural communities and the rural way of life’, with Labour close behind at 31%.
The survey reveals mounting frustration with economic policy and cost-of-living ‘premium’ affecting rural communities. The majority of respondents (69%) agreed the government isn’t doing enough to tackle the cost-of-living crisis in rural areas, and 33% said cost-of-living pressures are affecting the countryside more than urban areas.
And of the political parties most trusted to stimulate economic growth in rural areas, between the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the largest group of respondents (34%) said ‘don’t know’, suggesting gains could be won by any party that offers an ambitious growth plan for the countryside.
"“There is a simple truth – no political party has at present shown that it understands, let alone shares, the aspirations of rural communities."
Mark Tufnell, President of the CLA commented:
“In recent years, we’ve seen how quickly communities which feel left behind can rewrite the electoral map. In 2024, it could be the countryside’s turn.
“There is a simple truth – no political party has at present shown that it understands, let alone shares, the aspirations of rural communities. The outdated planning regime holding rural businesses back, the lack of affordable housing driving families out, the outdated infrastructure limiting entrepreneurs’ potential, it is all having a devastating impact.
“Any party which is willing to develop a robust and ambitious plan for the rural economy will secure significant support. Any party that wants to treat the countryside as a ‘museum’ will be punished.”
The polling shows a widespread lack of trust in local government, with 55% saying they do not trust local government to facilitate economic growth, with almost half (47%) stating local authorities ‘do not understand the needs of people living in the countryside.’
The report also uncovers a strong appetite for planning and housing reform. Of those surveyed, 44% said they would support more homes being built in their communities, with the 23% (the largest grouping) supporting up to 100 new homes in their areas. And 44% agreed that reforming the planning system would help stimulate growth in rural economies.
The polling comes after the APPG for Rural Powerhouse published a report revealing how government neglect has created a cost-of-living “rural premium”.
MPs found a shortage of affordable housing, inadequate power infrastructure, and poor connectivity has left rural communities spending 10-20% more on everyday items like fuel, despite wages being 7.5% lower than their urban counterparts.
This CLA and Survation report is the first in a series examining the voting intention of the most rural communities. 12 million voters live in rural areas, representing a significant proportion (16%) of the UK economy.