Labour’s Shadow Defra Secretary, Luke Pollard, discusses the party’s new rural policy review.
The political battle for the rural vote is heating up.
For far too long rural communities have voted Conservative, but got little back in return.
I asked a farmer why he voted Tory on a recent visit to his farm in Yorkshire.
“If there was an alternative, I’d look at it”, was their considered reply.
For too long our green and pleasant land has looked decidedly blue. Labour has a plan to change that.
In March, Labour leader Keir Starmer announced the party would be reviewing all our rural policies for England as part of a major policy review.
Keir has asked me to run the review and tasked me with a simple challenge: Make Labour’s next manifesto give as much hope and opportunity to those who live in rural areas as those who live in towns and cities.
As a West Country lad whose sister is a sheep farmer in Cornwall, I know how important rural communities are.
I also know how the current Government has taken them for granted in recent years.
We simply have to look at the new analysis released by the Labour Party today based on figures from the Rural Payments Agency, which shows that rural England is projected to lose more than £255 million this year alone.
This all comes as a result of the Government’s rushed withdrawal of the Basic Payments Scheme for farmers, when the new scheme for farm payments is nowhere near ready.
This is a reckless approach, that could risk as many as 9,500 rural jobs and will push family farms to the brink.
We’ve joined with the NFU in calling for this to be reviewed urgently – the consequences if we don’t could be devastating.
A decade of Conservative Government has hollowed out services in rural communities.
Cuts have been compounded by geography and distance in rural areas and a legacy of under-investment.
When a library closes in a rural area, the next one is often a very long journey away.
When the last shop in the village closes, the community loses its heart and its hub.
When someone needs social care, distance matters.
Labour is going to be more robust on rural matters and that means turning up, listening and acting on what we have heard.
That’s why we are launching the Rural England Policy Review to listen to rural and countryside communities about what they love about where they live, what they want to protect and what they want to see improved.
We might not agree on everything, but I want our door to be open.
I want rural communities to see Labour coming home. As a party we have rural roots as well as urban, and we are proud of that story.
Too often those in Westminster seek to do things to the countryside, not make changes with the countryside.
A decade of cuts, the pandemic, the consequences of Brexit and the climate emergency mean there is no going back to old ways of doing things, and I want to enlist the support of farmers to inform Labour’s rural policies on issues as diverse as housing and broadband, to wages and rural schooling.
I want our nation’s farmers and rural communities to share with me what they love about where they live.
What they want to see protected and valued, and what they want to change.
The initial consultation runs for three months, and we expect to publish interim findings after.
But this a longer project that will run for at least a year.
Our rural communities deserve better.
Labour wants to deliver that – and we’re going to start by turning up and listening.
Luke can be found tweeting at @LukePollard