The leadership race continues

The CLA Public Affairs team review the leadership race for prime minister and offer information on upcoming hustings
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And then there were two. After the frenetic end to the Parliamentary session, where numerous candidates tried to get themselves on to the final ballot. MPs decided upon the former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as the best candidates to be put forward to the Conservative membership.

The campaign for who will be the next prime minister is well underway, with both candidates extensively touring the UK attempting to speak to as many party members as possible. South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss emerged as an early leader, securing support from leadership rivals Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat. Truss’ campaign secured this early lead focusing on tax cuts, future trade deals and reducing red tape on corporations.

The former chancellor’s campaign got off to a slow start, with many feeling that Rishi Sunak’s commitment to fiscal conservativism during a cost of living crisis was not ambitious enough, and appeared unsympathetic to the many suffering with already high prices. Sunak has also been tainted in some Conservatives’ opinion as one of the orchestrators in bringing down Boris Johnson.

It is not a forgone conclusion however, as Liz Truss this week made what could be described as the first real misstep of the campaign by proposing to pay civil servants in areas outside of London and the South East less, leading a backlash over whether they had given up on the “Levelling-Up” agenda. Team Truss confirmed a few hours after the initial proposal that this wouldn’t happen.

Although damaged by this U-turn, Liz Truss still appears the candidate to beat, both candidates however have failed to put across a comprehensive case for the rural economy and how they would improve things across the countryside.

Team CLA have been hard at work ensuring that the Rural Powerhouse agenda, is firmly on the mind of candidates. We are working equally with both campaigns, and the MPs who are supporting the leadership contenders, providing briefings and information on all areas of the rural economy. We would urge those who a party members to raise the importance of a strong rural sector at any husting opportunities available.


The two candidates are two weeks into a whistle-stop tour of the UK, travelling around and meeting Conservative members, small businesses, and taking part in regional hustings.

It certainly isn’t the most relaxing way to spend the summer holidays but the hustings provide the opportunity for scrutiny of the candidates from their electorate. With the pool of voters exceptionally small compared to the prize – and responsibility – at stake, every question counts.

Already, the candidates have debated in Leeds, Exeter, Cardiff and Eastbourne, and the following dates remain:

Darlington: 9 August

Cheltenham: 11 August

Perth: 16 August

Belfast: 17 August

Manchester: 19 August

Birmingham: 23 August

Norwich: 25 August

London: 31 August

If you are a member of the Conservative Party then you are eligible to attend a husting. Tickets are available via the party’s website and there is an option to attend the hustings virtually if you are unable to travel there.

If you are attending a husting or know somebody who is, please find below a range of questions that could be put to the candidates to learn more about who is best placed to lead the country and serve the interests of the rural economy.

Suggested questions

  • Farming, though hugely important, only represents 4% to the rural economy. What plans does either candidate have to support rural businesses and allow rural communities to flourish?
  • Will the winning candidate be continuing with the levelling up agenda and how will they make sure that rural communities are not left behind?
  • The rural economy is 18% less productive than the national average; closing this gap is worth more than £40 billion in England alone. What policy interventions are planned to close this gap?
  • How will you ensure that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund brings a tangible benefit to rural businesses?
  • Many rural businesses struggle to recruit staff and young people struggle to get to their place of work or training due to a lack of transport options in rural areas. Is there more Government can be doing to promote and champion schemes like Wheels to Work?
  • Government imposes no statutory duty for local authorities to provide school transport for post-16 students, costing rural families hundreds of pounds each year to get our future workforce into education or skills training. What assessment has Government done to address this disparity and is it a sensible policy given the challenges we are seeing with skills gaps?
  • Carbon trading, biodiversity net gain and environmental programmes have stimulated an increase in demand pressure on land. Farmers and landowners want to play their part but are often outbid by wealthy investors wishing to greenwash their lifestyle. What measures is Government putting in place to ensure we strike a balance between viable food production and environmental protection?
  • Do you agree with the recent APPG report on levelling-up the rural economy makes a recommendation to create Rural Productivity Units to have cross-departmental oversight on policy-making to ensure government investment opportunities benefit rural areas as well as urban areas?

Key contact:

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Eleanor Wood Senior Public Affairs Manager, London