Tim Bamford

By Tim Bamford, Regional Director Country Land and Business Association (CLA). – People in the countryside have faced a generation of economic neglect. Despite covering 85% of our land, rural communities feel unseen. And this is why they could deal the biggest shock of the coming general election.

The Conservatives’ roots traditionally run deepest in the countryside. But according to a Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and Survation poll of 1,100 rural voters, this historic bond could be about to break.

Months before the UK goes to the ballot box, Labour has overtaken the Conservatives in England’s 100 most rural constituencies, polling at 37% to the Tories’ 34%. Compared to 2019, this means Labour has surged by 17% and the Conservatives have collapsed by -25%. Seats across the South East could turn from blue to red, or yellow.

Before the Labour Party starts celebrating, they should be under no illusion: much more needs to be done to earn these votes. The rural economy is 19 per cent less productive than the national average. This translates to £43billion of missed economic opportunity, and turning this around requires nothing short of radical ambition.

This is why the CLA is stepping in. Rural England doesn’t want to be treated like a museum. Like anywhere else in the UK, we just want policies that match our aspirations.

The CLA has launched six missions, designed to help policymakers unlock the potential of rural communities, for the good of our countryside, and our country as a whole. Anyone interested in rural votes in this election – take note. We need at least £4 billion a year to invest in a world-class agriculture policy, so our farmers are no longer trying to create a sustainable future on a shoestring budget.

Let’s build enough housing to encourage lifelong communities. Rural crime, rarely acknowledged like urban crime, must stop blighting neighbourhoods. Public rights of way must be funded and maintained properly, so everyone can respect and enjoy our beautiful countryside.

Recently, the electoral map has developed a habit of redrawing itself. Last time it was the ‘red wall’, this time it could be the ‘rural wall’. The only thing for certain is that, for the first time in decades, the countryside is politically homeless and its votes are up for grabs.

 About Tim Bamford

Tim Bamford is Regional Director of CLA South East which represents thousands of farmers, landowners and rural businesses in Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and the Isle of Wight.

By Ed

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