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Who will scrutinise Tory ag policy now they’ve no rural opposition? The BBC?

Now the blue tide has swept across almost all the English and Welsh countryside, wiping out opposition voices, who can be relied on to scrutinise Tory agriculture policy, asks arable farmer and NFU Sugar Board member Tom Clarke.

So there we have it.


Wherever you stood on Brexit, for the first time since the referendum it’s clear that we are leaving, and soon.


The argument is over and done.


Boris Johnson has swept all before him. And to give him some credit, he has repeatedly done what everyone said he couldn’t.


He couldn’t win the London mayoralty for the Tories.


He couldn’t win the referendum for leave.


He couldn’t become Tory leader.


He couldn’t get away with proroguing Parliament.


He couldn’t get a new Withdrawal Agreement out of the EU.


And, he couldn’t win a majority by targeting the northern working class seats of the red wall.


Well he’s done all of that.


We’d better get used to it.




Looking at the new electoral map of the UK, gazing at that sea of blue, it struck me.


If you are a farmer in England and Wales, however you voted, it’s about 90 per cent certain you now have a Conservative MP.


Apart from a handful of Plaid Cymru MPs in west Wales, and Tim Farron in southern Cumbria, nearly every one of us is now represented by the Conservatives in Parliament.


There’s been a lot of talk about how representing ‘working class towns’ might change the Conservative Party, giving it an increased focus on public services, housing and transport infrastructure.


Will the same focus and concern be true of farming now they have a near monopoly on representing us?


Blue tide


As the blue tide washed over the countryside, we also lost some of the saner opposition voices on agriculture such as David Drew, and occasionally Sue Hayman; both of whom listened to the industry’s representations and suggested sensible amendments to the Agriculture Bill.


Now with almost no opposition voices from rural areas – and with defeated eco-millionaire Zac Goldsmith newly ennobled and straight back to work at Defra – who will scrutinise and question this new Government’s approach to agriculture and the countryside? The BBC?


The stakes could not be higher. We will be out of the CAP in a matter of weeks.


Liz Truss will be striking trade deals with global agri-food exporting countries like Australia and New Zealand in a matter of months.


The USA and Brasil are next in line.




People who believe it might be better to import all the food we need and rewild the landscape will be negotiating these deals.


There will be a new, legally binding, multi-annual budget framework for the NHS; but not for farming.


Each year we will have to jostle for the scraps with the other ‘also-rans’ like teachers, police, the army, disabled people and the railways.


No longer can we rely on the inertia of the EU and the militancy of French farmers to ensure our place in the queue.


UK farming is among the lowest carbon footprint, most traceable, most affordable and highest standard in the world.




We have problems too and need help to make necessary changes and improvements.


But overall, we have a fantastic story to tell. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to tell, though, and we are well out of practice.


Day-to-day, most consumers don’t think past the shop shelf or takeaway counter.


Why should they?


We live in a time of plenty and of choice. What people eat tends to be either cheap fuel to get through the day, or a quasi-religious path to self-actualisation.


Often it’s both, weekend veganism is a real thing.




Never before has there been such a fundamental disconnection between the eating and growing of food, and yet seldom has there been more public concern for finding the right way to do both.


Never before has so much rested on the ability of farmers and farming to find its voice, to articulate the value of what we do, while acknowledging where we can do better.


We must persuade. We must win the arguments.


We must do this not just for our own sakes, but because we have answers to the problems of today.


Population growth, well-being, ecological restoration, carbon capture, animal welfare – all the answers start on the farm.




The farming unions of the UK have announced they will be holding a day of action, a rally of farmers in each home nation capital in spring next year.


We have seen farmer protests across Europe this year in the Netherlands, Germany and France, where massed tractors clogged commuting arteries.


If that is the plan, we should brace ourselves for the backlash.


As shown by Extinction Rebellion protesters pulled from a tube train roof by an angry mob; messing up people’s lives doesn’t win friends or influence people.




If, however, we can find a positive way to reconnect, tell a positive story and ally ourselves with the general public against the extreme ideologues who would lay our land and cupboards bare – then we stand a chance.


Many farmers will say we have no chance, but I say we have no choice – the rules have just changed.


It’s up to us to defy those expectations and show we have the answers.


Farming is the future.


Tom can be found tweeting at @Tom_Clarke

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