General Election 2024: What could the next govt mean for farming? 

As the General Election is set for 4th July, Labour is currently leading the opinion polls. We explore what happens next, and what farmers would like to see from the next government.

rishi sunak official portrait

In a speech outside 10 Downing Street yesterday (22nd May), the prime minister called an early General Election on 4th July 2024. 

The move came as a surprise to many, as the election had been predicted to fall in autumn. 

Parliament is set to be suspended on Friday (24th May) and an official five-week election campaign will commence next Thursday (30th May). 

This gives just two days to pass any outstanding legislation, which means some of the government’s measures will be abandoned. 

Labour has been leading the national opinion polls, and analysis of voter intentions on BBC News suggest 40-50% say they will vote Labour, compared to 18-28% for the Tories.

The rural vote 

Whilst farming groups have welcomed some recent announcements from the government – including new planning rules and a greatly expanded SFI offer – polls have suggested the Tories are struggling to hold onto their rural heartlands.

Recent years have seen significant political instability, with three prime ministers and five environment secretaries in the past four years.

Financial pressures on farmers, controversial trade deals and the loss of subsidies post-Brexit have led to growing frustration with the government.

A poll earlier this year by the Country Land and Business Association showed rural support for the Tories has fallen by 25 points to 34%.

Only a third of the 1,000 people surveyed said they would vote for the party. 

Just 28% said they believe Labour understands and respects rural communities, and the rural way of life. However, this is still slightly higher than the figure for the Conservatives (25%). 

Election promises

Rishi Sunak attended the NFU Conference personally earlier this year and pledged to “never take our food security for granted”.

Measures announced at the conference included a doubling of management payments to £2,000 and grants totalling £427m.

The government also recently announced new rules to cut red tape around planning permission, an expanded SFI offer for this year, and introduced new regulations for dairy contracts.

Other pledges included greater funding for mental health support, an annual Farm to Fork Summit and a stepping up of the Food Security Index.

At the same conference, Labour’s shadow farming minister Daniel Zeichner said a Labour government would cut red tape at the border, reduce reliance on imported food and improve post-Brexit farm payments.

Other promises include ensuring at least half of all food in hospitals, schools and prisons is British.

The Liberal Democrats have also said an extra £1bn should be injected into the farming budget.

Farmers’ election wishes 

A media briefing from Just Farmers earlier this year also showed a certain disenfranchisement with the Tories.  

Farmers who took part shared their key election wishes, among which were: a focus on food security, easing of planning permission rules, a competent government they could trust, stability, and a secretary of state who understands farming. 

Many said ‘more of the same’ would be their election worst nightmare, and some had moved away from the blue vote, though there was no clear move towards Labour among those who took part. 

READ MORE: What can farmers expect from Farm to Fork Summit 2024? 

Keir Starmer as PM

Commenting on the potential for a Labour government, Essex arable farmer Robert Graham, said as part of the briefing:  

“I do not think that Keir Starmer is able to deliver my idealistic wishes. But I hope, like Biden, that he can deliver some radical policies beyond the manifesto promises and the grey persona portrayed in the media.  

“The cautious, non-committal approach for which he is criticised perhaps masks a radical streak which will come through if he is elected.  

“And, as with past Labour governments from the 1940s through to the 1960s, I would expect Labour to be more concerned with food security than the free trade fanatics of the right.” 

Understanding rural issues

Dairy farmer Ruth Grice, from Leicestershire said she wanted to see a party that understands rural issues. 

“I really feel for Welsh farmers at the moment – it appears from the sidelines that they have everything against them, policy wise.

“I don’t think we’d stay in business for long if we were operating under similar circumstances.” 

Meanwhile, Ben Cooper, an arable and beef farmer in Wiltshire spoke of his election wishes: 

“A clear commitment to UK farming that provides a landscape where farmers aren’t halting investment and change in their businesses out of fear for what’s next.  

“I want the next government to put UK produced food and countryside protection at the heart of its plans rather than a small subsection. A government that people feel confidence in.” 

Reaction from farming groups 

NFU president Tom Bradshaw said this election could be the most important in a generation for British food and farming. And the stakes are high.

However, after months of flooding, high production costs and low returns, alongside reformed farm support, mean farmer confidence is at “rock bottom”.

He added: “Farmers and growers need the policies in place that will rebuild confidence and deliver a thriving, profitable farming sector delivering for food security as a key part of our national security. […]”

“What farmers, growers and the public need to see is practical policies which invest in a future where Britain’s farmers and growers can continue producing sustainable, affordable food, driving forward economic growth, providing jobs, and delivering on the nation’s environmental ambitions.”

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Victoria Vyvyan said that for decades, governments have failed to provide the conditions needed for rural growth.

“Every party needs to prove it matches the ambition, the talent, the work ethic and the values of the rural community. We don’t want nice words, we want a plan, and a commitment to a realistic budget for the future of agriculture,” she said.

“Whichever party produces a robust and ambitious plan for growth in the rural economy will secure support, and the CLA stands ready to work with them to unleash its full potential.” 

The NSA welcomed the news of the General Election, as it brings an end to speculation and uncertainty.

Chief executive Phil Stocker said: “The UK agricultural sector is already on a trajectory towards more sustainable farming, where food production has become recognised as more important, without taking away the need for better natural resource protection, helping to tackle climate change, and providing for nature within a farmed landscape.

“There is nothing I hear from the Labour Party to suggest that if there were to be a political change, that we would see a change of direction and that has to be good suggesting no major deviation whatever the election result.” 

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