If the Conservatives are not prepared to stand up for farmers now and protect them from low-standard imports, they should not expect rural votes when they come knocking for support at the next election, says Labour Shadow Defra Secretary Luke Pollard.
Time is running out to put Britain’s high food and farming standards in law.
The recent votes in the Commons told a clear story: Government MPs voting to strike down amendments that would protect farmers from being undercut and opposition MPs voting to stand alongside our rural communities.
My little sister is a farmer, and as a Westcountry MP, I know that there isn’t a path back to power for my party that doesn’t involve Labour winning rural communities.
Backing farmers isn’t just a political consideration, it’s a moral one too.
I don’t want trade deals to undercut our farmers. I don’t want cheap food produced to lower standards being imported into Britain.
I want to see Ministers put their manifesto commitment into law.
The fact they vote down attempts to implement their promise shows how much that promise is worth.
I have little time for politicians who hide behind soundbites when the future of agriculture in Britain is at stake.
That’s why I want to give farmers my pledge that Labour will continue to press for our food standards to be put into law.
Conservative MPs outvoted Labour, the Lib Dems and other parties last week on food and farming standards.
This Bill needs cool heads not firm whips.
And to achieve our goal of protecting farm businesses and our standards we need one of two things: a Government concession or a Government defeat.
We get the first by pushing for the second, and farmers are critical.
We need to push Tory MPs who voted against farmers to change their vote when the Agriculture Bill returns to the House of Commons on November 4.
I know many farmers lobbied their MP for the very first time for the last vote, but we need more this time.
The truth is a simple one: unless we put Britain’s high food and farming standards into law there is a risk that our British farmers will be undercut by food produced to lower standards abroad.
For a Government so open to U-turns and screeching policy change, the insistence that their hands must not be tied by the views of farmers, public opinion or even their own promise in their manifesto is odd.
There is only inescapable conclusion – that Ministers want to let cheaper food produced to lower standards into Britain.
Apart from a handful of principled Conservative MPs, the Tories held firm at the last vote.
The anger I see and hear from our rural communities over this betrayal is real.
Tory MPs have regarded rural voters as in the bag for decades, but in last week’s debate I warned them not to take our countryside communities for granted.
Farmers should measure political friendships on whether their friends turn up in bad weather, not just when the sun shines.
Back British Farming day shouldn’t be one day a year – it needs to be a year-round commitment, and it is clear there were far too many MPs posing for photos this year without the will to stand up for farmers at crunch votes.
Under Keir Starmer, Labour MPs will continue to vote for measures that are in the best interests of our farming communities on trade and standards.
Keir’s recent visit to the Wiltshire farm of NFU president Minette Batters underlined his commitment to this campaign.
It was only after Keir met with the NFU that the PM dropped his opposition to a meeting, inviting Minette into Number 10.
To farmers the length and breadth of the country, I want to issue this challenge to you to give to your MP: will you stand up for us now, and if you won’t do it now, when will you do it?
Because if they’re not prepared to stand up for farmers now, they should not expect rural votes when they come knocking for support at the next election.
Let it be that blunt – sometimes electoral maths has a way of cutting through better than any other form of lobbying.
We don’t have much time left to put our food and farming standards into law. We are running out of time to give Parliament a proper say over future trade deals.
And the days are counting down until a harder form of Brexit than we were promised.
Farmers are on the frontline of this policy, but they’re also the frontline of the lobbying.
Get in touch with your MP, tell your story about your business, the risk lower standards pose to your future viability and to future generations farming the same land as you do now.
Tell it now.
Luke can be found tweeting at @LukePollard