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Farm to fork summit not the only thing PM has on his plate as rural voters threaten to desert Conservatives

Public Affairs

Today’s second annual Farm to Fork summit is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to set out the government’s plans to support British farming. This is being held against a backdrop of a very wet spring, and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board suggesting that 15% less land will be planted with wheat this year, along with 12% of the total arable land in Britain remaining fallow.

The publication of the first UK Food Security Index, therefore, comes at a very opportune moment. According to the UK Government website, this index ‘will allow the government, industry and farmers to monitor the impacts of external factors.’ It also highlights how the UK produces the equivalent of just 17% of the fruit and 55% of the vegetables that end up on British plates – figures that are behind those of meat or diary.

Following the Prime Minister’s address to the NFU conference earlier this year, he set out how the £75 million fund, helping protect agricultural land and rural communities against the impact of adverse weather, will be deployed. Other measures that were announced include funding for horticulture businesses being doubled to £80million, including up to £10 million to help English orchard growers access equipment, technology, and infrastructure.

Any measures aimed at improving our country’s food security and supporting our agriculture sector are to be welcomed. Yet, just as when I first tasted sprouts for the first time, there is something unsavoury on the Prime Minister’s plate: his party has been losing rural voters. The President of the Country Land and Business Assocation (CLA) summed it up as “Rural communities feel unseen, they feel unheard, and for the first time in a generation, they feel politically homeless. After decades of economic neglect, it is no surprise to see shifting allegiances in the countryside.”

For over a year now, we’ve seen a swathe of polls, articles and local election results showing that in rural areas voters are turning away from the Conservatives. An interesting article in today’s Financial Times points out that some rural voters are switching directly from the Conservatives to the Greens, as shown by their taking control of Mid Suffolk Council last year.

The rural political battlefield is becoming increasingly crowded, as Labour too have been keen to increase their credibility on rural issues, realising that in order to take power, they must increase their popularity outside of cities. Very sensible, given it’s estimated that 40% of UK constituencies are rural.

Perhaps the next election will see another ‘great alignment’ of the unthinkable – rural voters deserting the Conservatives. For Rishi Sunak to win back the trust of rural communities, it’s clear he needs to fork out for more than just a summit.