What a new government could mean for your rural business

From APR to ELMs, CLA Director of External Affairs Jonathan Roberts offers an insight on rural policy trajectory now a new government is at the helm – with continued guidance from the CLA
Parliament big ben

Labour don’t win many elections, but when they do win, they win big.

27 years after Tony Blair declared ‘a new dawn has broken, has it not?’, Sir Keir Starmer has stormed into Downing Street with a similar majority.

For better or for worse, Blairism changed the country. But Starmerism is at present ill-defined with little to go on beyond a vague manifesto.

But in their minds, the manifesto was necessarily vague. The simple truth is that the British public tend to punish parties who set out detailed plans – Theresa May’s perfectly sensible social care policy, for example, was the catalyst that cost her a majority in 2017 – and with a sizeable poll lead, Starmer clearly felt too much detail was too big a risk.

Labour figures were keen to tell the CLA, however, that the manifesto was not the sum of their policy thinking, and they were very receptive to the ideas contained within our ‘missions’ that were published earlier this year.

Labour’s political opponents sought, however, to capitalise on this void of information, throwing mud in the hope some of it stuck. The allegation that Labour would scrap agricultural property relief (APR) was one floating around the farming community in the days prior to the election. We have seen no evidence that this allegation is true – indeed, then Shadow Secretary of State Steve Reed told the CLA’s Rural Business Conference in November that the relief would definitely not be scrapped, reiterating the view on a recent appearance on Radio 4’s Farming Today programme. 

Nevertheless, even the faintest question mark over the future of APR quite reasonably causes huge concern among the farming community, and the CLA is permanently vigilant to any threat, genuine or perceived, to its continuation.  

Labour will no doubt learn from this experience. The previous government was not famed for communicating well and it paid a price. The absence of information breeds rumour – and those rumours can sincerely worry business owners, many of whom are teetering on the edge.  

As with governments of any colour, we need to know they are on our side. The prevailing attitude towards Labour from many in the countryside is a legacy one – that they don’t understand or care about rural communities, seeing them solely through an urban lens. Historically, this has been true. I have to say however, that in my dealings with them in recent months, I have found them to be engaged, willing to learn and eager to help.  

Their manifesto commits to policies we strongly support: the continuation of Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs), planning and housing reform, better grid and digital connectivity, being tough on rural crime.

There are areas we cannot support: the scrapping of hope value on land subject to compulsory purchase and the removal of section 21 on rental properties. There is a much larger list of policy areas where we have a huge question mark, where Labour has not yet decided exactly what it thinks.

This is where the CLA comes in.  

Following the success of our ‘missions’ and ‘candidate support packs’ earlier this year, we are now nearly ready to launch a new document, entitled ‘A programme for government: delivering Labour’s manifesto for the rural economy’. We have taken the manifesto and a number of speeches from key Labour figures, analysed them, and developed a detailed document to explain how the government can deliver its objectives in a way that supports, not harms, landowners, farmers and rural business owners. The document will be launched shortly.

This period of change is going to be unsettling for everyone. But the CLA is on the case. We were very well prepared for this election, and a potential change in government. There are risks ahead, but there are opportunities too.

The CLA will do what it always does – help steer the government, calmly and professionally, onto the right course.

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Key contact:

Jonathan Roberts
Jonathan Roberts Director of External Affairs, London