Labour has not always done the best job of speaking for the countryside, but farmers need us to raise their concerns now more than ever, because uber-loyal Tories afraid of Number 10 won’t, says Shadow Defra Secretary Luke Pollard.
There has not been a time for as long as I have been alive where farming has played such a large role in the national political debate.
Brexit, the climate crisis, rising rural poverty and the urgent need for roll out of rural broadband has given law makers a renewed focus on farming and our rural communities.
And about time.
I’m proud to be a Westcountry lad. I’m proud that my little sister is a sheep farmer in Cornwall and I’m proud to come from a region where farming runs through our blood.
For far too long, regions like mine have been ignored and side-lined by Ministers.
The last decade has seen public services slashed in our rural areas, rural bus services cut and real challenges in finding the labour we need for our farms.
I’m not a fan of Brexit, but now we have left the EU we need to make sure the powers that are coming back from Brussels to Westminster are well used.
And there’s a problem with this.
The number of Parliamentarians with direct experience of farming, or fishing for that matter, is very limited.
As Labour’s Shadow Defra Secretary, this means those, like me, who want to see a rural renaissance, need to recruit allies in the fight for parity with urban funding and the case for focus on rural issues.
I don’t think Boris Johnson’s Government has got off to a great start.
Government advisers slating the role of farming, Ministers introducing a new immigration scheme that would all but rule out labour supply for many farms, and massive changes in farm support which remain uncertain all paint the picture of a Government uneasy with the current status quo.
That’s why Labour tabled amendments to the Agriculture Bill which would require US foods produced to lower animal welfare and environmental standards to be barred from the UK.
This is an argument where Labour’s allies are rural champions: the NFU in particular. Tory Ministers used their majority to vote down that amendment.
In so doing, they highlighted that farmer’s concerns about being undercut by cheap, US imports in a post-Brexit trade deal remain a very real risk.
Labour has not always done a great job at speaking for the countryside, but we need to, and now more than ever.
In only a few short months since the General Election, the concerns and priorities of rural communities have been dismissed and attacked by Ministers.
I share the concerns of farmers that Ministers are happy to see even more farms go to the wall.
And that is why Labour needs to reconnect with farming communities.
There will be some things – like fox hunting and the badger cull – where we might disagree, but the reality of politics today means farming communities need Labour to raise their issues because uber-loyal Tories scared of stepping out of favour with Downing Street won’t.
And Labour needs rural communities to win the next election.
In that new rural relationship lies a better deal for farmers, more focus on rural issues and a connection that is worth investing in.
Luke can be found tweeting at @LukePollard