UK

Labour takes lead over Tories among ‘politically homeless’ rural voters

Support for the Conservatives among England’s rural voters has collapsed since 2019, a poll has found.

Rural communities appear to be abandoning the Conservatives, although neither major party commands much confidence in the English countryside
Spring weather May 14th 2020 Rural communities appear to be abandoning the Conservatives, although neither major party commands much confidence in the English countryside (Steve Parsons/PA)

Labour has taken a narrow lead over the Conservatives among England’s rural voters, a poll has found.

But while the survey suggests Conservative support has collapsed in the party’s heartlands, the head of a major countryside business association said rural voters were still “politically homeless”.

Victoria Vyvyan, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), told the PA news agency: “My overwhelming impression is that both of the major parties have very little support in the rural economy at all. They might be vying for two halves of nothing at the moment.

“And that’s because neither of them have produced an ambitious plan for the rural economy.”

The poll, carried out by Survation on behalf of the CLA, found Conservative support had fallen by 25 points since the 2019 election, with just 34% of voters in the 100 most rural constituencies in England saying they would vote for the party.

Labour support has risen over the same period, going from 20% in 2019 to 37% at the start of this year – giving the party a narrow lead in what has traditionally been considered Conservative territory.

Support for the Liberal Democrats has remained largely unchanged, with 14% saying they would back the party – down only two points from 2019.

But the poll also shows neither of the main parties is seen as understanding or respecting rural communities.

Only 28% said they thought Labour understood rural communities, while 25% said the same about the Conservatives.

Victoria Vyvyan played down suggestions that England could see large-scale farming protests, but said rural voters felt ‘politically homeless’
Summer weather August 7th 2023 Victoria Vyvyan played down suggestions that England could see large-scale farming protests, but said rural voters felt ‘politically homeless’ (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The CLA has put forward a series of “missions” for parties to show they understand rural voters, including investing in profitable and sustainable farming, providing affordable homes for rural communities, tackling rural crime and improving connections for rural areas.

Ms Vyvyan said: “Our vote is there for the taking, and they need to show us that they understand and respect our community.”

She added: “We feel invisible. I spoke to a small farming group in West Cornwall and the question that was asked was why are governments not interested in our community? Why are they interested in everyone else’s community except ours?

“We are politically homeless.”

Rural dissatisfaction has led to protests by farmers in other parts of Europe, such as France and Spain, while Welsh farmers have warned of “huge unrest” over plans by Cardiff to reform agricultural subsidies to reward “sustainable” food production.

But Ms Vyvyan played down the possibility of similar unrest in England, saying farmers were “well set” on the way to agricultural transition, adding farming minister Mark Spencer and Environment Secretary Steve Barclay had “produced very good rates” for payments.